Traveller letters: Why you should check this detail on your passport

WINGS CLIPPED

Australian passports apparently last only nine years and six months, especially travelling to Europe. When trying to check in online for a Singapore Airlines flight my passport details were refused with Singapore Airlines staff informing me that when travelling to the UK I needed a passport with more than six months validity (I had five months and three weeks left on mine). 

Passport photos at the local post office were taken followed by a mad drive to the passport office in Sydney from the Blue Mountains, where I live, only to discover that my passport photos were not acceptable. 

I then had to rush and get new ones. Then came the crunch: the fastest passport processing is 48 hours (at a premium charge), meaning that we miss our Wednesday morning flight. I ring Singapore Airlines to change flights to Thursday – an additional $2000 cost with urgent passports costing $840 as well as a nights extra accommodation $250. 

But a question? Why, when I booked flights and was required to provide passport details, including expiry date, is the airline not then aware of the status of a passport? Why can't they at that time warn travellers that the passport will not comply or may need updating? It would surely only be a software change and would save a hell of a lot of hassle, besides showing goodwill.

JOHN HOCKNEY, LEURA, NSW

LETTER OF THE WEEK: RIGHT ON TRACK

Kokoda Track June 2004 . Photo: Sandra Harrison. An Australian tourist at the Australian Memorial at Isurava on the Kokoda Track.

 Photo: Sandra Harrison

It's hard for a 55 year old urban woman to walk the 96 kilometres-long Kododa Track in Papua New Guinea. But my porter Amon helped me succeed and taught me two valuable life lessons along the way. Early on, when I began floundering, he murmured, "find your pace. Find your pace." After finding "my pace" I decided it was too slow and tried to go faster. Soon, exhausted I slowed to a snail's speed. This time Amon repeated softly, "find your pace and keep your pace." I relaxed into my slow, but steady gait and we began leaving camp earlier than most and arriving last in at night – and I made it. Amon's advice, "find your own pace and maintain it," proved worthy advice both for the track and life in general.

SUE GUNNINGHAM, GREENSBOROUGH, VIC

ENABLE THE DISABLED

My wife has MS and we travelled a fair bit years ago, but after a couple of hospital trips she pretty much can only get from wheelchair to lounge and toilet, can't do a few steps anymore. In the past she could struggle up the aisle of the plane to the toilet. Hotels were OK because I could wheel her up to the bathroom. Now we need a disabled room.

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My issue is with hotels. It is hard to either get or even find out if they have disabled rooms. Recently in regional NSW we booked a disabled room in a hotel and the wheelchair wouldn't even fit through the door of the room, let alone the bathroom. Reception asked, "is it a big wheelchair?" I said "no, [it's] the smallest one you can get." We had to stay anyway (it was 10 pm at night) and she couldn't shower but thankfully the toilet was next to the bathroom door.

On a plane now I believe she would need to be catheterised which introduces its own problems. My point is that whenever I read travel magazines and guides, there is never any mention of the availability of disabled access rooms. I would love to know which airlines provide long haul flights for customers such as my wife.

I imagine some river cruise ships have disabled rooms but I'm not sure they regard  people like my wife as being worth the investment; we rarely get called back.

MICHAEL LEE, NEWCASTLE, NSW

CUSTOMS UNMASKED

I wonder too what gets picked up at our airports (Traveller letters, February 1). We arrived in Melbourne from Fiji and declared our wooden mask. There were television cameras there for some reason or the other; the official checked the form, didn't even look at the mask, looked over her shoulder and waved us through. And for the record, I bagged and fumigated the mask once I got home.

JENNIFER BENNELL, PASCOE VALE, VIC

SIGN LANGUAGE ONE

Further to Brian Johnston's wonderful essay on the joys Asian English and signage (Traveller, February 1), may I mention that in the Saheliyon-ki-Bari (Garden of the Maidens) in Udaipur, India, visitors are advised "Caution: surface near fountain may be slippery avoid photography by climbing on it". We did just that.

TIM FREER,TORQUAY, VIC

SIGN LANGUAGE TWO

I really enjoyed Brian Johnston's article. I totally agree that Indian English is truly a blessing on the ear. I lived in India for several years and it never failed to delight me - and indeed challenge my Oxford Englishness. I once took my life in my hands and hired a car to drive around the Goan state to visit the many temples I wanted to see.

Despite sharing the road with every manner of transport imaginable, including rickshaws, buffalo carts and all types of wandering animals and wayward pedestrians, it was not as hair-raising as I expected... until on a dual carriageway, approaching a roundabout, I encountered a large sign that said "drive sideways".

YATRA SHERWOOD, HOBARTVILLE, NSW

SIGN LANGUAGE THREE

I was disappointed in Brian Johnston's article about funny English in Asia. Unfortunately, Australians mostly tend to be monolingual and monocultural. If the purpose of travel is to broaden one's appreciation of other cultures, mocking the basic English of foreigners is not the way.

To really get a taste of a different culture, I always recommend learning a few words of the language of the country you are visiting, such as "hello", "good morning", "thank you", "please" and numbers from one to ten. You won't find the locals mocking your attempts, in fact it's usually the exact opposite; they are thrilled that you are not another monolingual traveller expecting the locals to speak perfect English.

JAMES HEYMANN, KAHIBAH, NSW

RECLINE WHINE

Brickbats to the passenger in front of me who reclined their airline seat fully for the duration of the recent long haul flight to Europe. Bouquets to the first airline brave enough to ban fully reclining seats. Congratulations to the person in the window seat who successfully exited their seat while all seats in front were fully reclined. Truly a remarkable achievement.

PAULINE SERAFINI, FAIRFIELD, VIC

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