I was born on December 23. If you work for Customs, you probably already knew that. At least you should know it because for many years I've been writing down my date of birth on those damnable orange departure slips whenever I fly out from Auckland Airport. And my date of birth never changes. Never. (Though sometimes I wish it would - two days before Christmas is a dog of a time for a birthday party.)

Each time I scan my passport at the SmartGate, Customs has access to all this information (and much more besides). So why do I still have to manually fill in an orange departure form?

The departure forms are one of the annoyances that make regular international travel a chore. It's frustrating to needlessly pause and fill out a form before Customs - and being pretty damn sure that the completed form is of no use to anyone.

Last week, at their innovation centre on Fanshawe St, Air New Zealand revealed they have been working with Customs to develop an electronic departure form. Customers who check in using the airline's app will already have answered eight of the 12 questions. If you're in their frequent flier scheme, then you've already provided 10 of the answers. Two more clicks and you're done.


This is great news. It may seem a small thing, but every time you fly out, you lose one minute filling out that form (and that's a conservative estimate). In 2014, Customs handled 5,237,455 departure forms. With one minute spent completing each form, that adds up to almost 10 years of human labour - a staggering amount. All to fill out forms that are destined for a recycling bin. You cannot seriously expect me to believe someone is out the back checking the information on the cards. ("Hmm, I see Mr Aldworth has spelled his street name incorrectly today ... tsk, tsk ... ")

Yes - it's good to gather data. It's good to know what's going on, so we can understand economic trends and know what infrastructure needs investment. But our present unwieldly system of orange cards is not the answer.

It's early days. Some of the other innovations that the airline revealed last week (biometric scanners to speed up baggage drop off; real-time text updates on kids travelling alone; ordering your coffee via an app and having it ready the moment you arrive in the Koru Lounge) might be introduced before the end of the year. They pride themselves on embracing new ideas and new technology and much of the whizz-bang stuff I saw last week will paint Air New Zealand, again, as an industry leader. Good on them.

The electronic departure card is still on the wishlist. They're still working with Customs to find the best electronic system for gathering departure data. As yet, there's no date for it to come into use. Watch this space.

Next up: Let's get rid of the arrivals cards.