First impressions count. And there’s nothing worse than arriving in a new country – whether you’re on holiday or travelling for business – and having to queue for hours at passport control.
And that’s often been the case for travellers arriving in Bali. Long a favourite with Australian holiday-makers, the interminable wait in a long queue at Denpasar airport at the end of a seven hour flight is bound to kill a tiny bit of the thrill of being there.
So, as I headed to the Indonesian island of Lombok (via Bali) this week to attend a travel writers’ conference, I was interested to see how Indonesia’s national airline, Garuda Indonesia, has worked out a way to help their passengers get around this not-so-happy mexperience.
After a successful trial on flights from Sydney to Jakarta in 2010, Garuda has introduced on-board visa processing. It’s simple and easy: your visa is processed and your passport stamped during the flight by immigration officials travelling with you. The fee is the equivalent of US$25; if you pay in Sydney at a special counter beside the check-in desks before departure it must be in Australian dollars (cash only) and will vary slightly with the exchange rate (we paid $24 this week). Or you can pay on board in US dollars.
An hour or so before you land, the two immigration officers wheel the trolley down the aisles of the plane, stamping passports as they go. It may not be exactly service with a smile, but it’s fast and efficient and makes getting through the airport formalities on arrival an absolute breeze.
And it’s a huge hit. Airline representatives told me that it’s a key selling point for Garuda and very popular with passengers.
But the last word should come from one of my companions, who on a previous trip had waited in an immigration queue for three hours.
“It would definitely make me choose Garuda over other airlines,” she said. And I had to agree. Wonder if any other airlines – no matter what destination they are flying to – will take up this idea. No doubt there’s a cost involved for them, but it seems they’ll make it up in increased sales, and most of all, goodwill.