I had an 11:10 flight from Sydney to Auckland. Despite a traffic jam, Uber got me to the airport before 9:00. When I arrived at check-in to drop my suitcase, the line was very, very, very long. But hey, I safely had almost 2 hours to get to my gate. Let’s just say I have never seen such slow service (name of airline withheld to protect the innocent). The line crept forward almost imperceptibly.
I looked at my watch: 9:30. I chatted with the people behind me. I looked at my watch again: 10:00. I was getting a little nervous. I still had to get through security and then go to the gate. A bit later, an airline employee walked through the line asking who was on the flight to Auckland and, by the way, we had to get to the gate by 10:20 in order to catch the bus that would take us to the plane. I mentioned, “It’s already 10:30.” She said, “Do the best you can.” What?
I finally made it to the check-in desk, dropped my suitcase, and bolted for security. I didn’t bother to take off my boots and forgot to take out my little bag of liquids, so I made it through in record time, ran to the gate, and caught the bus. I felt sorry for the people behind me. They didn’t get checked in fast enough and missed the plane.
I picked up my luggage at baggage claim and a sniffer dog came around to make sure I wasn’t carrying any food or other forbidden items. Then I went through 3 security check points with very thorough screenings!
First stop was passport check. I have a new e-passport so I sailed right through, no standing in line. But then I realized I didn’t get a stamp in my passport book. I wanted that New Zealand stamp but I missed my chance!
Second stop was customs. During the flight we were given a customs form to fill out, with many questions about items we carried in our luggage and places we’d visited. Food and animal products are not allowed to be brought into the country. There were many signs in the airport hallways instructing people to throw away any food or forbidden items.
No problem, I wasn’t carrying any food. But I had to declare that I had hiking boots and had been hiking in the mountains. According to the declaration form, the boots could potentially be carrying contaminated foreign soil. I worried that my boots might be confiscated!
Before getting to the customs check point, I went into a restroom, soaked a paper towel, and wiped the dust off my boots. I hoped that would help. Maybe they’d let me keep my boots if I promised to clean them completely. I loved my boots and couldn’t imagine how I’d go hiking without them!
On the other side of the restroom, a nervous young woman was digging through her luggage and throwing out a lot of sandwiches. Maybe she was going hiking too, and that was her food supply. There’s an instant $400 fine for trying to sneak anything through customs, so she was complying with the law by getting rid of her forbidden items.
After exiting the restroom and waiting in a long line, I presented my customs declaration form at the customs desk. I was asked if I was carrying any food. “No.” The customs man noted that I had hiking boots and made a green check mark on the form next to my “Yes” declaration. I was sent to stand in a special line next to a wall. I couldn’t see what was happening on the other side of the wall and my anxiety about my boots increased.
When my turn was next, I walked around the corner of the wall and could see what was going to happen to me in a few minutes. A young woman was unloading her backpack on a long stainless steel table. She pulled out packages of food and bag after bag of fruit. The examining agent looked exasperated. He confiscated the food, I assumed she was given the fine, and then it was my turn so I didn’t see what happened to her after that.
A friendly woman motioned me to come over to her table. She asked if she could see my boots. Since I was wearing them, I put one foot on the table, she looked at the sole, and then I put the other foot up. She said they didn’t look too bad but motioned me into a room with tall, official-looking doors. I thought this would be where I’d have to say goodbye to my wonderful boots.
But no! She asked me to walk around on a squishy blue mat that was on the floor. It contained a foamy liquid that covered the soles of my boots, and I realized it was a decontaminant. I squished around on the mat until I was sure they had been thoroughly sanitized. That was all. Yay!!! I could keep my boots!
There was one more checkpoint: luggage x-ray. Relieved that my boots were coming with me, I confidently hoisted my bags onto the belt. They contained nothing illegal. The bags slid out the other side and I was finally free to go!
Uber dropped me off at my AirBnB at 7:20—just in the nick of time. Feeling rather cheeky, I’d invited myself to a 7:30 InterNations dinner party. I belong to the InterNations club in Valencia, and prior to arriving in New Zealand I introduced myself online to members of the Auckland club, so we weren’t complete strangers.
I quickly changed into dinner clothes, called another Uber, and arrived at the dinner “fashionably late.” The dinner was delicious, the conversation was lively, and I now have seven new Auckland friends. The perfect ending to a long, stressful travel day.
* I do not have affiliate relationships with Uber or AirBnB and do not receive any compensation from them. I use their services often and am extremely happy with the quality of service.