A Most Unusual Welcome Ceremony

Friday, September 05, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

A WANDER DOWN UNDER, CHAPTER 2:  IN WHICH WE ARE DISINSECTED

Days 2 and 3:  Honolulu to Sydney.  With both our internal clocks wound too tight, we awoke at 4:15 Thursday morning in Honolulu.  We could reset our wristwatches but not our circadian timepiece, so there was nothing to do but rise and shine, knowing we'd pay for it at the end of this very long day.

To simplify our departure arrangements from Honolulu, we had booked Bob, the Vietnamese-Hawaiian taxi driver who transferred us to the hotel on Wednesday, for a 9:30 pickup to return us to the airport Thursday morning.  Apparently he had become ill, but he sent a prompt substitute who was waiting for us at the designated spot.

"Secure" area at Honolulu International
Honolulu International Airport features an open-air terminal, with the oldest sections dating back to the early 1960s.  After undergoing a security screening, it seemed a bit incongruous to be back outside on these sidewalks and walkways between the TSA station and the gate area, particularly when we arrived at the gate to find vehicles parked just outside the door.

In keeping with the laid-back island lifestyle, the Hawaiian Airlines gate agents didn't arrive at the gate area until ten minutes before scheduled boarding.  No worries.  They dealt with the line of passengers that swarmed to the desk for assistance and loaded the aircraft efficiently by rows.  In fact, we were taxiing to the runway a few minutes before the scheduled departure time.

The cabin crew provided outstanding service during the 11-hour flight, always attentive and eager to go above and beyond what was required to ensure the comfort of passengers.  While we realize this might have been due to our sitting in first class, the "aloha" attitude encouraged us to believe this type of service was offered throughout the plane.

Only after we landed in Sydney did the flight crew shock us with a procedure whose safety we questioned.  And they were doing what Australian law compelled.  As we were taxiing to the terminal, we heard the following announcement, which we learned later comes directly from a script provided by the Australian government.
“Ladies and gentlemen, to conform with agricultural and health requirements, the aircraft cabin will now be sprayed. This procedure, recommended for this purpose by the World Health Organization, is necessary to avoid the introduction of harmful insects into Australia. Please remain seated and keep the aisles clear while the aircraft is being sprayed. Thank you.”

To say we were a bit shocked by this news would be quite an understatement.  After the aircraft arrived at the gate, we began to sense a smell through the air conditioning system.  Then the AC was cut off and flight attendants opened all the overhead bins.  That complete, they proceeded to walk up and down aiming aerosol sprays into the bins and filling the air with this mist.  What the Australian government pointedly neglects to inform passengers is that this spray is an aerosol insecticide with a combination of d-phenothrin and permethrin.

CallingtonHaven.com, cabin insecticide manufacturer, features this smiling attendant inhaling poison on their website. 
And we thought it was only the venomous animals that threatened us in Australia.  Government requirements further stipulate:  "On completion of the spraying, a five minute saturation period must be observed prior to resuming the air conditioning and maximising the airflow. Passengers are to remain seated for this period, until clearance is given by the Officer/Inspector allowing passengers to disembark."

Though we covered our faces while a mist of insecticide filled the cabin, a single exposure probably did not put us at risk.  Flight crews who regularly undergo this toxic procedure and who are most exposed during the process are not so lucky.  Pending lawsuits charge that inhaling insecticides in the confined space of a sealed cabin over a period of years has triggered the development of brain tumors, Parkinson's disease and other conditions among flight attendants.

Nowhere were we notified in advance that this "disinsection," as it is euphemistically called, would be forced upon us as a condition of entering Australia.  Try as we might, we couldn't help being reminded of Nazi concentration camps' use of a so-called "delousing" procedure, in which victims were forced into a sealed room and gassed with cyanide.  Perhaps this was on the mind of the American passenger many rows behind us who became quite belligerent about being subjected to this procedure and was eventually removed by security.

Welcome to Australia.  Now that you've been fumigated, you may deplane and enter the country.

Road Noise:
  • As much as we have read about Australia and as many people as we have talked to who have visited the country, we marveled that we had never heard of "disinsection."  Our research suggests that aircraft arriving from Europe and North America may be residually treated with the insecticide sprayed in the cabin while the plane is unoccupied.  Only on flights from tropical areas, apparently, is the on-arrival method required.  Great choice deciding to arrive from Hawaii.

  • Perhaps we should take comfort from the fact that the World Health Organization (WHO) has endorsed this procedure.  But the same organization also encourages the use of DDT inside homes for malaria control.  Talk about choosing your poison.

  • Australia is certainly not the only country to require disinsection.  New Zealand apparently requires on-arrival treatment of occupied cabins on some flights.  However, their law provides that the announcement to passengers include this statement: "If you have a serious medical condition which could be affected by aerosols, please press your call button to discuss this with your cabin crew."  Australia offers no such opportunity.

  • Crossing the international date line was sort of a non-event for us.  We left Honolulu at 12:45 Thursday afternoon and arrived in Sydney at 7:30 Friday night, which was after midnight and thus also Friday Hawaii time.  I think.  Actually this whole IDL issue leaves me a bit flummoxed if I think about it very much.
Daily Stats:
  • Started in Honolulu, ended in fumigation Sydney
  • Mileage -  5,087          (Trip total -9,624)
  • Weather - Sunny and 85° in Honolulu; dark, rainy and 55° in Sydney 

More Photos from Today

Gate 26 (on left) of international concourse at Honolulu International
Hawaiian Air gate agent finally arrived
Nice new Airbus 330 which transported us to Sydney