After planning a vacation cruise half-way around the world and paying for it one way or another, we arrived at the airport to check in. To our shock we were advised our destination, Australia, requires a visa. With this news the adrenalin started pumping as the last visa we applied for required a month to receive. The full-mode panic button was only seconds away. The cruise line said nothing about a visa, and the airline said nothing till we arrived for check-in. The first of four flights leaves the gate in two and a half hours. That is exactly the way it happened!
This scene is reminiscent of an earlier cruise planned from Miami a few years earlier. On this occasion, we had driven most of the 300 miles toward Miami to spend the night before boarding the ship the next day. Driving the last 50 miles the day of boarding I asked my wife, who should remain nameless, if she had her passport. She said she did not. It was already too late to return home to fetch the passport, but we had planned ahead and had copies of both.
Maybe we could negotiate with the cruise line with the copies. They listened intently, conferred with supervisors, and said it would not be allowed. This was anxiety city chapter one. Through planning ahead, we arrived well before the ship was scheduled to leave port. With encouragement from a daughter, prospective daughter-in-law, and Fedex all arrangements were made for Nameless to spend the night at the Miami airport hotel, retrieve and ship the passport via Fedex to the hotel to arrive by noon the following day, and for her to fly to San Juan, Puerto Rico the following evening. It worked fine, and Nameless’s husband was able to become familiar with the ship all by himself for one day.
Today, however, was a visa problem, a requirement that required governments and organizations to work together flawlessly on the spur of the moment. Governments and organizations simply don’t work that way.
“But wait” the lovely ladies at the Delta checkin desk said. “Australia has an Electronic Visa Approval process. Do you have a laptop” they asked? I had purchased an Apple Ipad Air2 just three days earlier specifically for this trip. It was fully charged and ready to go. One of the Delta ladies provided the internet address of the Australian government website where the application could be completed and submitted. When approved it is attached electronically to the passport. In the old world we grew up in, this is like passing ‘go’, and collecting $100.
“No way” I thought to myself, “that this hair brained process would work in the short time we had before the plane left.” I figured there were only two chances this would work, – little and none. But I pulled the Ipad from the carry-on, pressed the on switch, and set it up within earshot of one of the ladies. Through the regular airport Wifi I logged into the Australian government website to the specific page where applications are processed online.
I was so anxious that my fingers could not hit the keys sufficiently. After half an hour, one of the Delta ladies asked if I had completed any of the applications. I said that I had, but it required a lot of corrections, fumbling, and negative results. She offered to complete the process for both of us using my computer. After each application was completed successfully, we made two $20 AU payments through a Delta Sky miles Credit Card.
As soon as both applications were completed and paid for, it was then necessary for the agents to receive an approval code, which was attached to our passports, untouched by human hands half way around the world. The agents checked, waited a while, then checked again. After 15 minutes of waiting, Delta received verification that our passports had electronic visa numbers attached, granting them and us clearance to begin our four flights to Perth, Australia, The trip down-under would consume the better part of 24 hours in the air.
The miracle of modern communication is simply hard to imagine. The United States currently requires several months to process a passport application, and may require a personal visit to one of few offices spread across the vast continent. Australia, by contrast, has set up a totally online visa application process which may be completed online at an airport with a wifi connection.
Arriving at the gate we boarded through the normal process with a few minutes to spare. After boarding the plane, two additional issues struck us almost blind. A critical light in the cockpit was not working properly, and was being checked by a technician. After 45 minutes of this delay, a second announcement came directly from the captain that heavy rainfall had created a traffic problem in Atlanta, and that we would not be able to head toward Atlanta for another 40 minutes.
At this point, we were numb from concern that we could miss our flight to Las Angeles from Atlanta. The saving grace from these problems was knowing that Delta makes money by flying us where we want to go, and it is in their interest to see that it happens exactly that way. If only our government could see who their customers really are.
We made it to Perth in time to see the spring flowers. After three days in Fremantle we hope to board the Explorer of the Seas, an RCCL mega-ship where we may relax for the next two weeks sailing the south shore of Australia, then circling the south island of New Zealand before returning to Sydney and the brutal flight home.
Are we living in an age of online magic, or what!
When Hillary, the US presidential candidate, was eventually forced to provide official emails of her government service as required by law, she commissioned her lawyers to convert them all to paper copies, and deliver them in boxes back to the government. When delilvered dozens of other government officials were required to go through them one page at a time removing those which included confidential information. Had she delivered the mail in electronic form on a thumb drive, months of delay would have been avoided. The delay, of course, was the point, while the government and the people have been seriously abused by submitting paper, rather than digital documents.
The U.S. Government is still living in the age of the dinosaurs, and Hillary hopes to be their leader. Why can’t the US government get smart, – like Australia?