When arriving into Melbourne Airport on an international flight, it isn’t Australia’s famous scenery that greets visitors, but massive queues. So what the hell is going on?
This week industrial action was to blame:
Passengers at international airports across the country can expect delays due to a customs and immigration staff strike during peak flying periods on Monday.
Airports are asking Australians due to travel abroad to arrive as early as they can.
The four-hour protected industrial action will hit international airports in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Cairns, Adelaide, Perth and Darwin.
But even when customs and immigration staff are all on duty, Melbourne Airport is woefully underprepared for the number of passengers who pass through it.
The problem is caused by multiple factors, of which the simultaneous morning arrivals of three A380 aircraft (Qantas, Emirates and Singapore Airlines) is one.
The first hurdle when arriving into Melbourne is a the ‘last chance’ duty free store that every passenger is forced to weave their way through.
Provided you avoid knocking over any bottles of duty free booze, it is time to clear customs and immigration. While holders of Australian passports can use the automated ‘SmartGate’ barriers, there is still a line to use them.
Once past that barrier, it is time to pick up your bags. Again, this is where the inadequate facilities at Melbourne Airport shine – there are seven luggage carousels in the international arrivals, but only two of them are large enough to fit an A380 load of bags.
When I last arrived into Melbourne my flight was assigned to carousel 7 – the second largest carousel available, but still too small to hold all of the bags being unloaded from the Singapore Airlines A380 I had arrived on.
Bags of non-Australian citizens began to pile up on the carousel, as the owners were still stuck in the line to clear immigration. Once the carousel fills up to a second level of bags, the sensors prevent any new bags from being dumped onto the belt.
Meanwhile everyone else has to twiddle their thumbs.
Eventually my bag came out, so it was time for the customs and quarantine line, which snaked around the baggage hall – it took 20 minutes to reach the *actual* queuing area.
By that point, customs and quarantine staff had given up on processing three A380s loads of passengers, so they just carried out a cursory inspection of our ‘anything to declare’ cards, and sent the low risk passengers straight out the exit.
There are many things I miss when I head out of Australia, but our piss-poor excuses for airports are not one.
More on baggage carousels
Melbourne Airport has seven baggage carousels in the international arrivals hall – a diagram can be found here. Carousels 1 through 4 date back to at least the 1990s-era overhall of the terminal, with the first 90-metre long A380 carousel being added in 2006. This was followed by a sixth and seventh carousel in 2008-12 as part of the expansion of the international terminal.
More stories of incompetence
Here are the 2011 experiences of Peter Clark, an aviation commentator based in Auckland:
To top it off after this day of problems I have been told that the airport managers intend directing airlines to hold passengers on board arrived flights when the facilities can’t cope with peak loads.
And from Reddit in January 2014.
First time flying into Melbourne airport from overseas? This seems like a typical day. Its always like this everytime I fly in. Its compounded by the fact that international flights tend to land in groups.
Yep, nothing unusual here. Happens many times (last time I was there, I came in on an A380, Another 747 landed straight after us. Was packed for ages).
And finally a video in February 2015 from Will Horton, an analyst at CAPA – Centre for Aviation.
Australian airports trying to accommodate int'l visitor growth but queues are too big. Here, MEL arrival queue pic.twitter.com/1I7EP4rZvr
— Will Horton (@winglets747) February 17, 2015