Sunday, June 12, 2011


The story you are about to read is true. No names have been changed to protect the innocent, because we never really learned anyone's name. Besides, I'm not sure any of them are innocent.

We boarded the flight to Bali in Sydney having done all the usual overseas travel stuff: completed and turned in immigration cards, had passports scanned, bought duty-free booze, then sat in the lounge drinking free booze and snacking until they announced the plane was boarding and we move there for more free booze and a snack.

The flight from Sydney to Bali goes south, even though Bali is north. That's because Qantas stopped running the route and gave it to its cheap-as-chips low-class (oops, that probably should have been low-cost) subsidiary Jetstar. Jetstar pretty much runs its schedule as if the planes were just very big and very fast buses. The Sydney stop, then the Melbourne stop, then the Bali stop, then do it all over again. And please stand clear of the driver.

In Melbourne we had to get off the plane even though it was the plane we were taking to Bali. But they had to clean it and didn't want annoying things like customers getting in the way. We were also told to take all our belongings. I am pretty sure this is because seeing a bottle of duty-free booze would probably prove too much temptation to anyone actually working for Jetstar.

As we disembarked, a typical Jetstar customer service rep stood at the end of the jetway, barking out every few minutes that people who were going on to Bali had to step aside and wait with her. She then led about 20 of us to a subterranean security point that screened transit passengers to make sure we somehow hadn't acquired weapons on the flight from Sydney.

OK, so far this isn't all that unusual. However, as we waited to put our bags on the belt to be x-rayed, a slight commotion started near the front. When I looked up, the security guard was taking a bottle of bourbon out of a passenger's duty-free shopping bag and announcing that she was confiscating it.

The booze was purchased in the international duty-free shop in Sydney and was perfectly permissible to carry on any international flight leaving from there. But by getting off the plane in Melbourne, it became just another example of liquids they won't allow through security. Good-bye to our Johnnie Walker Black and Ciroc vodka. Farewell, in fact, to all the bottles in all the bags of our travelling companions.

You need to know a few things about Aussies. They love bargains. They love travelling on holidays. And they love to combine the two by buying cheap booze for their holiday. Most of us going to Bali were watching liter after liter of booze being taken away as if we were a bad episode of Boardwalk Empire and wondering how much we could drink on the plane to make up for it.

But there's some other things you need to know about Aussies. First, they really, really, really don't like anyone taking away their booze - especially if they just bought it and the bottle is not even open yet. And oh yes, most Aussies don't give a crap if someone is wearing a uniform and acting as if they're in charge.

I understand why most Americans bow their heads slightly and put up with whatever the security screeners do to them at airports. One of America's great national fears is having our lives messed up by insecure people suddenly thrust into positions of some power -- small town cops, assistant principals, airport security people.

So Americans wait until they've cleared security before grumbling about the screeners. Deep in every one's mind is the likelihood that if you tell these minimum-wage, poorly trained, previously unemployed people that they're not doing a good job, they are likely to retaliate by pulling you aside, questioning you, frisking you, perhaps calling others to see if there is some way to make you miss your flight. So in America, when they confiscate the booze you bought inside the security zone, you just sigh and live with it.

Not quite the same here. Faced with injustice - and the loss of our holiday booze, we passengers became one voice, demanding they give us our grog, refusing to accept that there was any logic whatsoever in what they were doing, arguing that it was our right to keep it. Kind of like Arab Spring, only on a scale we were more comfortable with.

Anyhow,  a supervisor came and sorted it out. Let us know that it wasn't something he should do, but since we were all obviously good people (albeit with some of us starting to show evidence of DTs), he would let the booze through. Our Jetstar customer rep moaned that she could be fined for helping us do this but she would do it and wanted us to know what a wonderful person she was. And, by the way, could you please write to Jetstar and let them know they should tell you not to buy booze in Sydney but to wait until you get to Melbourne.

Which is a good idea, except I would expect that in a good company you wouldn't need customer complaints to adopt a good idea. It might be just enough to have an employee suggest it. Oh wait, this is Jetstar. Never mind.

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