Major improvement at Pearson Airport customs,.Man left behind on Barrier Reef
Imagine not having to stand in front of a customs guy and having to explain why you were in Florida in January. Instead, you simply fill out your customs card on the plane and, when you land, swipe it in a machine.
Mind you, you still have to hand your passport and the customs declaration card to a customs officer, but it dispenses with the mandatory "where you were and what are you bringing back" questions that we all find annoying, and speeds things up.
There's no guarantee when it'll happen, but I had an interesting chat with Darin Juby, general manager of "guest experiences" at the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, GTAA, which runs Toronto Pearson Airport, and he told me the "Automated Border Crossing" machines could be coming early in the new year.
"Any Canadian would have access" to the card-reading machines, Juby told me. "There would be no preregistration needed."
Juby said they're going as fast as they can to bring it in and hope for early in 2012. "But with the government you never know," he said.
The machines would be available for trips from both the U.S. and overseas. Obviously, customs would have the right to pull people over if they had just cause. And anyone bringing back more than the allowable amount of wine or clothes or cigarettes or whatever would have to declare that, and you'd still have to have receipts for what you purchased in case you're asked for proof.
Still, it sounds like an improvement, so congrats to the authorities and the GTAA.
I'll have more on the GTAA and the baggage claim issues I wrote about yesterday in a future column in Star Travel, so stay tuned...
STRANDED ON THE GREAT BARRIER REEF...
When I was in Australia for the Sydney Olympics in 2000, my wife came along at the end and we visited the Great Barrier Reef for a snorkeling trip. It was nice, although not as overpowering an experience as I had hoped. Maybe I had the wrong tour company but I've seen more interesting fish and coral in other parts of the world.
Anyway, it was weird because the day after our trip my wife was reading Bill Bryson's hilarious book about Australia "In A Sunburned Country," and found a passage about a couple who went diving on the reef off Port Douglas in 1998 and were left behind, never to be seen again. Their name was Lonergan, same as my wife's maiden name, which was pretty spooky.
The latest incident involves Ian Cole of Michigan, who surfaced from underwater the other day only to find his tour boat was gone. He swam to another boat and was apparently unharmed, but it still shouldn't happen. What if he was in a more isolated area, for goodness sake?
The tour operator, which gave Cole a whopping $200 dinner voucher, apparently fired someone but they also claim Cole is exaggerating. Nice.
Cole told The Cairns Post he panicked when he pulled his head from the water at Michaelmas Cay and found the boat had left. He was forced to swim to another vessel owned by the same company, whose employees radioed for Passions of Paradise to come back.
"The adrenalin hit in and I had a moment of panic, which was the worst thing I could have done at that point," he said in a story posted on the Sydney Morning Herald website. "I was able to calm myself just a little bit because there was another boat still out there and I made my way to that vessel.
"Lucky it was there because otherwise I may have drowned, I did not handle the situation well and I was tired."
A friend here at the Star said when went to the Great Barrier Reef, her tour company was adamant that people sign a form when they went in the water and then sign again when they clambered back on board. Anyone that failed to register was made to eat a teaspoon of vegemite," she said with a laugh. "If you did it twice, you got a tablespoon. Six of us had to swallow a teaspoonful. One person did it twice and got the tablespoon."
How was the vegemite, I asked.