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2004-07-28 Questionnaires and procedures

As I spend much of my life up in the air, there are two things now which do not so much annoy me, but rather baffle me. I have learned to accept the constantly growing airport queues, and the falling standards in customer service.

 

Paying for luggage trolleys seems terribly unfair, especially if you have no local currency, but it is something which we now reluctantly accept as the norm when travelling. And, needless to say, the long wait at security control is excusable in these days of heightened security.

 

The first thing that really baffles me, and I accept that safety should always be the first priority, is the now-memorised airplane safety procedures. I mean, Im sorry, but let us not beat about the bush here - if I am to fall out of the sky from 30,000ft., the likelihood is that I am probably going to die. Yes, I am always grateful to be reminded of how to fasten my seatbelt, and would of course be very grateful for an oxygen mask should we suddenly experience a reduction in cabin pressure. Assuming we land in water, and hopefully rather gently, I would of course follow the strip-lighting to the nearest exit bearing in mind it may be behind me, and I would certainly not inflate my lifejacket until I was well outside the aircraft. But would I have the time to form a nice neat bow on the right-hand side, and what about that whistle, will it be much use in mid-Atlantic? And the light which comes on when I am in contact with water will surely only serve to attract some hungry sharks?


 

On a recent trip to China, my visa of course was in order, and I had filled in my Health and Quarantine Declaration questionnaire religiously. I am very good by now at the name, date of birth, passport number, country of birth and all that. For Sex, I always state Yes, but never hear anymore of it afterwards. With regard my list of allowed products, and this is where we come to Number 2 on my Travelling-Baffling list, I was carrying no animals that I knew of, no animal products (unless my digested airline meal counted), absolutely no carcasses, no plant-propogating materials or blood products, and the only human tissue and blood I had was definitely my own. I was not aware of carrying any soil with me, unless there was any soil residue on the soles of my shoes left over from recent walks through the Sligo fields. Microbes, waste and used clothing were of course a little more difficult to deny, but was I really expected to wear a brand new outfit every time I flew? I had to be excused for carrying some used clothing and, saving your presence, a little of my own waste, whatever about the microbes. I remember filling out a similar form last year on entering Argentina, and was asked if I had perhaps brought along any trees (is that a Sequoia in your pocket sir?), or parts of trees, for example seeds, bulbs, stake, rhizome etc. No, just a branch! I was asked if I had brought any bee produce, biological products or, wait for it, semen! Please God I have, says I. Next!

 

With regard to the listed symptoms on the Chinese questionnaire I was, for the moment, clear of vomiting and diarrhoea, and was unaware of any active pulmonary tubercolosis, but I think I may have had just a touch of psychosis after the rather stressful flight. Any shortness of breath I had was down to the long walk through the Terminal building. With the ongoing Sars and Bird Flu worries throughout Asia we all passed by a temperature monitor, before passing through passport control. The questionnaire had asked me if I had been in close contact with a Sars case in the last 14 days. Well, how was I to know? I may have been next to one on my flight. And if I was aware of it, was I really going to admit it?


 

I am only too aware that the safety procedures on board airplanes is of huge importance, and that countries have to have tight health and quarantine control, but I think youll agree, some attention needs to be directed to these procedures and questionnaires again.