Stress at check-in? It’s pretty non-existent in my world. When I have to front up at an airline’s counter, about the only mild curiosity is whether my bag will be overweight or not. I’ve never had a bad experience…

… until now. I passed through Sydney Airport less than a week ago and to say the procedure was frustrating is an understatement. Being sent from pillar to post is not enjoyable.

The Backstory

Two things you need to know before I go on. First, Australian citizens currently need permission from the Australian Government to leave the country. If you do not have this, you may not leave, even if you have flights booked. People who ordinarily reside in other countries are automatically exempt and do not need to apply.

Secondly, Ireland (among other countries) requires a negative PCR test for Coronavirus within 72 hours of arrival. That new thing only came in a couple of days before I was due to fly.

Pre-Flight Shenanigans

My flight was on a Saturday and Ireland brought in the PCR test requirement a few days before I was to travel, on the Wednesday. The testing centres in Australia charge A$120 (€76, £68, US$93) for people travelling and they advise doing this two days before departure. I went on Thursday and received my results that evening.

Next, I received an e-mail from Qatar Airways on Friday advising I needed a negative PCR test for Ireland. They asked for this to be sent to them and to complete a form. Well, the form wasn’t attached, but I sent my test results anyway. The representative, based in Sydney, told me she’d fill in the form for me and I could sign it at the airport. Fantastic!

A Queue With A Difference

At Sydney Airport, I arrived at the Qatar Airways check-in queue, where a table was set up. Here, the friendly lady asked if I had my Irish Government locator complete and for my PCR test.

I told her I e-mailed it in and that it should be printed, waving to the A4 sheets beside her on the desk (there were three!). In two seconds she had my form in hand and I signed it. Perfect! I was given a tiny slip of paper to show that I had done this bit and headed onwards.

Check-In Dismay

Confident all was well, I arrived at the check-in desk. After taking my Passport, the lady there asked me to show my Irish Government passenger locator on my phone. Good. Next, she asked for the PCR test results. For this, she took my phone to read it closely.

Casting me an unhappy look, she squints and starts writing with her pen. More writing. “This test was taken on Thursday. It is too early for travel.” To which I just looked at her. Once I found my voice I explained the advice on the test web page advised to do tests two days prior to departure to ensure the results would arrive in time.

She pointed out that this meant the test would be invalid as, of course, it takes 25 hours to fly from Australia to Ireland. Eventually she calculated it by the hour.

Turns out I had done my test at 11:24am on Thursday Sydney time, which is 00:24 on Thursday Irish time. Plus 72 hours is 00:24 on Sunday, which was almost 12 hours before I was due to arrive – making my test 84 hours before arrival rather than 72! However, they are not so exact as to care about the hours – as long as it’s three days, it’s fine – Thursday Irish time plus three days is Sunday. I’d made it by 24 minutes.

From Pillar to Post

The hell was not yet over. Next, I was asked for my Australian travel exemption form, the permission from the Government saying I could leave. I advised I did not need one as I was ordinarily resident in another country. Another frown. She makes a phone all… no dice. I’m asked to go to another queue.

At the other queue (happily about 10 steps from where I was), I waited a few minutes until two others were seen. When I got there, the Qatar Airways representative said I had to go to immigration past the SYD sign and get my exemption approved, then come back to get my boarding pass.

Exemption Hell

Off I go, and get to where the exemptions are processed and no-one is there. Two others land behind me. They try another queue but get sent back to where I am. After a minute or two, an immigration officer appears. I explain I’m there for an exemption as I am ordinarily resident elsewhere.

“I need to see something with your address in Ireland on it.” I don’t have any. “What about a drivers licence?” I still use my Australian one. “Well, I need to see something with an address.” I show all my credit cards, library card, tram card. “I need to see something with an address.” Racking my brains, I say that I have my address in my British Airways Executive Club account (can’t tell I fly a lot, if that’s the first thing that springs to mind, eh?). “No, I need something like a bill or a pay slip – something with your address on it.” Who carries this stuff with them?

Finally I had a brainwave. “I can show you a bank statement on my Irish banking app?” – she nods. I log in to the airport WiFi, log in to Internet banking and pull up a statement. She glances at the address and all is well.

After giving the other two waiting behind me the same spiel (the guy had ID with his foreign address, the girl did not), she takes all three Passports away. Returning a few minutes later, she hands mine and the other dude’s back and tells the girl she needs to check more things. I was out of there fast before any minds were changed.

The Grand Finale

Back at the check-in desk, I re-appeared along with others, Passport in hand. The check-in lady took my Passport and then made a telephone call, presumably to confirm my exemption. Once done, she handed my boarding passes to me with a flourish.

Pleased that palaver was over, I went back to immigration and sailed straight through. Next was security, which was painless and fast. I was very, very pleased to be “out of the country” once through.

Overall Thoughts

Since I had e-mailed my PCR test to the airline the day before travel – and it had been printed off and a form filled in – having that queried was a heart stopping experience. For the record, in Dublin they checked I had it, and waved me through after a cursory glance.

When it comes to having to show your address, the Australian Government web site says, “You are considered ordinarily resident in a country other than Australia if international movement records show that you’ve spent more time outside Australia than inside for the last 12 to 24 months. You do not need to carry a paper record of your movements with you. If required, Australian Border Force officers at airports can check your movement records in their systems. If you do not think you need a travel exemption, you can present this evidence when you check-in at the airport.

That is literally all it says. Nobody said you needed something with your address on it. I figured they would see my international arrivals and departures from Australia which would be enough and my Irish Passport would cover the evidence aspect. This should be far clearer. Anyway, I made it home in one piece, and won’t be heading to Australia again until the pandemic is over, thank goodness.

Have you travelled to or from Australia during the pandemic? What was it like? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

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