By Vyt Karazija
Departing from Ngurah Rai, Bali’s international airport, is always a quirky experience. Even more so now, with the passenger drop-off point having been shifted to a point five kilometres from the terminal. Well, it feels like it anyway. It’s now right in the middle of the gigantic and thoroughly disorganised car park. A long walk through jostling crowds brings me to the crowded international arrivals area, whereupon I have to walk another 200 metres to the departures section…
Never mind, I’m there now, and it’s only taken me 15 minutes to go through the congested first security screening post, fight some inebriated turkey for my carry-on bag (because he’s convinced it’s his), put my belt and shoes back on and line up at the Garuda check-in counter.
A security person scrutinises my bags. “Any lighters in your suitcase?” he asks suspiciously.
“No,” I answer truthfully, because my lighter is in my hand luggage. He neglects to ask me about explosives, knives, guns, box cutters or tasers. That’s fine; I didn’t bring any on this trip anyway.
I pay my Departure Tax and start filling out my Indonesian Departure card. An Immigration official zeros in on me. “Wrong card to go back to Australia,” he declares. I explain that I am a KITAS holder, and that I do, in fact, need to fill out this card. He looks at me askance, then pounces on my passport and minutely examines my KITAS expiry date. It’s in order. Then he finds the separate Multiple Entry/Exit stamp and his face falls. “Ahh, it’s still OK,” he mutters. Still OK? Of course it’s still OK – it expires at the same time as my KITAS, doesn’t it? Wrong. I discover that the essential multiple-entry stamp actually expires one month before my KITAS.
I have no idea why that is, and my puzzlement must be apparent. “Many people get caught!” says the officer. “But no problem – only small fee to fix…” Ahh, now I understand his zeal. I resolve to check my expiry dates more carefully during my next renewal. I also need to find out why the two supposedly linked permits are not date-synchronised. Another little trap uncovered.
As boarding time approaches, I head off to Gate 6, the designated departure for my Garuda flight. It’s completely deserted. Uh oh. There are no status boards and there have been no gate-change announcements either. A few anxious moments later, I am directed to Gate 8, where another bag scan takes place. Then, further on, another security checkpoint officer physically checks my carry-on bag. “Do you have a lighter in your bag?” he asks. “Yes, I do – I’ll put it in my pocket,” I say. See, I’ve done this before. I know that in Bali, you can’t take a lighter in your hand luggage. You are always told, “Put it in your pocket,” for some completely incomprehensible reason. Perhaps airlines think that burning a hole in your own lap is preferable to scorching their overhead lockers, although I have never heard of a lighter spontaneously igniting in either location.
But not this time. “No, you cannot take your lighter. Not in handbag, not in pocket. New rules say that we must confiscate all lighters.” I reluctantly put my brand-new lighter in the proffered plastic bag, which already contains perhaps 100 lighters. No doubt they will be re-sold at the nearest warung.
So I wander off to the departure gate – and stop dead. The illuminated sign says Gate 8: Jetstar Flight JQ36. It is now five minutes to my scheduled boarding time, but the plane firmly glued to the aerobridge is Jetstar’s, not Garuda’s. The first tendrils of panic start to curl through my intestines. “Umm, where is the Garuda flight?” I enquire. “Here,” says the gatekeeper, waving his hand towards the Jetstar plane. OK, it’s midnight, my brain isn’t working and I’m tired, but I can still tell the difference between aircraft livery, even at night.
The gate person looks at my baffled visage and relents. “Here, but later. In one hour. Jetstar flight is delayed. Blocking gate, so Garuda plane has to wait. Sorry.” Damn. I am specifically flying Garuda this time after my last rage-inducing experience with Jetstar, because it’s cheaper, cleaner, more comfortable and the service is light-years ahead of Jetstar. And here I am, still unable to get away from their operational problems even when flying with a different airline. I feel like I am being haunted.
Luckily, there is a smoking room in the departure area for addicts like me, and I head off for a consoling puff. Of course, I have no lighter. There is only one traveller – from Aceh – who has one, and he charitably allows everyone in the room to use his. I start thinking that maybe if I spin some pathetic yarn, I can somehow borrow my lighter back from the security checkpoint. I will even do it under armed guard if necessary. So I head back to the place where all the lighters have been confiscated. I am not overly optimistic, because, you know, security is security, but I’m willing to give it a go.
Explaining the flight delay, my desire for a cigarette and my need to borrow a lighter is easier than I anticipate. Without even blinking, the security man hands me my lighter and smiles. I think to myself, “But what about the new rules?” He apparently reads my mind. “Rules say we must confiscate all lighters.” He grins. “But no rule about giving them back!”
I return to the smoking room. The Aceh man has disappeared. In the absence of Boy Scouts, desperate would-be smokers are rubbing sate sticks together to try to make fire. I brandish my lighter triumphantly, and explain how I got it. Five minutes later, every smoker in the departure lounge has their lighter back.
Ah, Bali – I just love your quirky rules.