In 2013, evolutionist and atheist writer Richard Dawkins created a fuss on Twitter because he was not allowed to ‘bring his honey onto a plane in his carry-on luggage’. We learned the lesson and we put all our honey jars inside our checked-in luggage, yet I would still end up creating a fuss.
My family—my grandparents, my parents, my sister and my baby nephew—were about to fly back home to Jakarta after spending their holiday in Australia and New Zealand. They decided to buy manuka honey as it is a well-known souvenir from this region.
My mother wrapped each jar of honey with duct tape to prevent a leakage, put all eight jars (of 500 g each) into a small box and then placed them into a bigger box with other souvenirs—Tim Tams, Lindt chocolates, Kiwi biscuits and more.
My brother-in-law, my fiancée and I accompanied them to the airport. Upon arrival, my father paid AUD 14 to get the box to be wrapped nicely with plastic and we all walked to the Garuda check-in counter.
After waiting for a while, we were served by a lady at the Business Class counter. And yes, we were a big group. There was my grandfather, who was in his early 80s and required special assistance (wheelchair, which we have requested). There was my grandmother, who was in her late 70s. There were my parents, my older sister who was five-month pregnant, and my two-and-a-half-year-old baby nephew, who couldn’t stand still. There were six people traveling to Jakarta with eight luggages in total.
The lady was working slowly, but it didn’t matter, for we did arrive early. Then my father put the box on the counter and she asked, ‘What’s in the box?’
I said, ‘Tim Tam, chocolates…’ And my father said, ‘Honey.’
She looked at the box and said, ‘You’re not allowed to bring honey.’
‘What?’ I said.
‘You’re not allowed to bring that much honey. I need to call someone to ask about the policy. Hold on for a while.’
So we waited while she called someone to ask about bringing honey inside a checked-in luggage. I was confused, because exactly one week ago we were flying Air New Zealand from Auckland to Melbourne with 10 jars of honey inside our checked-in luggages, and they allowed us to travel in a breeze.
She hung up the phone and said, ‘How much honey do you bring?’
‘Around 10 jars,’ I said. It turned out that my mother only brought eight in total, but at that time, I was just giving a number.
‘You’re not allowed to bring that much honey in one bag.’
‘You’re only allowed to bring one jar of honey in each checked-in luggage.’
‘But we have just flown with Air New Zealand, bringing all these jars of honey inside our checked-in luggage. There was no problem.’
‘Every airline has a different policy on what you can carry in your luggage, and Garuda only allows one honey per bag.’
I nearly exploded due to the absurdity, but I tried to maintain my composure. ‘But honey is considered as a “gift” from Australia. I don’t understand why you’re not allowed to bring honey inside a checked-in luggage.’
‘Probably different airline has different policy, but Garuda’s policy is one honey per bag. And I need to see the honey.’
My baby nephew had run around and my pregnant sister was unable to chase him. My mother tried to hold the baby, but he was just being a little boy. My father tried to keep watch of all our checked-in and cabin luggages. My grandfather had stood too long with his cane and wanting to sit down once again. My grandmother was confused, not understanding and asking repeatedly why there was a problem. My fiancée was filling the departure cards for my grandparents. My brother-in-law was helping to pick up the heavy luggages.
So I looked at the finely wrapped box and said to her, ‘Do you have scissors? For me to cut this open?’
‘No,’ she said. ‘They [the wrapping station] should give you a small scissor.’
We found the small scissor taped on the upper side of the box and began to unwrap everything. We took out dozens of Tim Tams, biscuits, chocolates and found the smaller box of honey at the bottom. I purposely brought the small box of honey nearer to her so she could see what we were bringing. I handed her one jar.
‘It’s already wrapped with the tape and everything,’ I said, ‘to prevent leakage.’
‘That doesn’t matter,’ she said. ‘You’re still not allowed to bring this much honey in one bag.’ She picked up the phone to call and ask about the honey once again. I took a mouthful of water to calm myself down.
Finally, she hung up the phone and said, ‘This [the 500g honey jar] is fine.’ I thought we just needed to put everything back in the box. Then she said, ‘You still can only bring one honey per bag.’
I looked at her—half in disbelief—then gritted my teeth and said, ‘We would need our luggages back then.’
So we got back all our luggages that had been tagged and weighed, took out the luggage covers, unlocked them and slammed the jars of honey inside without even giving it a second thought. Ten minutes later, after all the luggages had been nicely packed once again, I asked, ‘Do you have a tape that we can use to seal this box?’
‘No,’ she said unempathetically, ‘they [the wrapping station] should have it.’ I almost gave her a look. Probably I did.
‘So can I bring this box to the wrapping station to be wrapped?’ I asked, just in case she wanted to see whether we tried to sneak two jars of honey in that one box. She said that was fine.
Then my father went to the wrapping station a second time and paid another AUD 14 to wrap the box nicely.
I asked the lady, ‘Why do you only allow one honey per bag? It doesn’t make sense.’
‘It is flammable,’ she said flatly, curtly even. ‘It’s the common policy at the moment and many airlines are enforcing this rule.’
Why does she decide to be a customer service staff? I wondered. Probably she woke up on the wrong side of the bed that morning, or was just about to end a long shift. Perhaps she sighed in disbelief when she had gotten a big family group to check in at her counter. Her facial expression spoke volume, and it was one that made me wanted to curse openly. Thankfully, I still remembered my place.
I drank even more water and typed into Google, ‘Is honey flammable?’ and unable to get any concrete answer.
She proceeded with the check-in procedure, slowly, if I may add, and asked my sister, ‘Is the stroller going to be checked in?’
My sister said, ‘It can be folded and we’re taking it as a cabin luggage.’
‘You’re not allowed to bring in the stroller,’ she said. I definitely gave her a look at this point.
‘The stroller is able to be folded as a cabin luggage,’ my sister said cooly, having flown a number of times with the stroller onboard.
Forty-five minutes later, my family had finally gotten their boarding passes. I did say thank you, but I was furious. My face was boiling hot, my mother had told me. And my brother-in-law, Pohan, and I were about to file a complaint.I walked to the Garuda Special Assistance counter and asked to the man sitting there, ‘I would like to ask about the policy on bringing honey in checked-in luggages. Why are we not allowed to bring more than one honey in one bag?’
The man said, ‘Oh, there was an incident with passengers bringing honey inside checked-in luggage and it leaked and affected the alloys of the aircraft. It is a safety issue. It’s not only us—most other aircrafts are using strict policy on bringing honey inside checked-in luggage as well. This has happened a lot of times.’
I Googled the heck out of ‘incident with leaked honey on aircraft affecting alloy’, but found nothing.
‘If the policy is like that, I think we should be informed about this before instead of now. My family and I have just come back from New Zealand carrying all these honey and there was no such policy.’
‘Oh really? Which aircraft are you flying?’
‘Air New Zealand. A lot of these honey are brought from New Zealand.’
He made a face, as if confused—as if he didn’t believe that Air New Zealand was allowing us to fly with such amount of honey in our checked-in luggages. Then Pohan said, ‘Can we take a look at the policy on bringing honey on checked-in luggage?’
He said, ‘The policy is that you are only able to bring one honey per luggage.’
Pohan said, ‘Is there a written policy on this? I think we would like to see the written policy.’
He was taken aback a little bit, but he took up the policy guide and tried looking for that specific policy. Meanwhile, we kept on bombarding them with our complaints.
‘We would also like to complain about the staff on the far end of the counter who was managing us,’ Pohan said. ‘She has an attitude, and she was very unhelpful about all this. As we are traveling in a big group, it caused us unnecessary stress. Is there someone that we can talk to about this? Can we talk to the manager?’
I jumped in, ‘There’s my grandfather, who needs special assistance and a wheelchair. And we’re traveling with a baby as well. She has been very unhelpful towards us, not even an apology or a smile. If she was apologetic towards us, or even smile, I might still be able to take it. If I’m traveling by myself, I can still take this. But this is a big family group, and it’s very unreasonable.’
At that point, my voice had cracked.
‘If this is something that is happening frequently,’ Pohan said, ‘I think we should be informed about this beforehand. There is no mention of this at all anywhere.’
The man somewhat apologised, still trying hard to find the policy that Pohan asked for. We decided to send our family to the immigration first and went back to follow up on the complaint later.
‘We’ll be back in ten minutes,’ I said.
And we did. The manager came out too. This time, Pohan handled the complaining thing, as I was on the edge of cursing. I drank more water and took more deep breaths, and tried to Google the heck out of ‘bringing honey inside checked-in luggage’.
The man showed Pohan the one-line policy that said something along the line of, ‘Honey needs to be packaged professionally and in line with the LAGs [Liquids, Aerosols and Gels] policy.’
‘…And the policy is that only one honey is allowed per checked-in bag,’ he said. I Googled the heck out of that as well, but couldn’t find anything. I searched Garuda Indonesia baggage website and found nothing on bringing honey.
Pohan asked three times for the name of the lady who was managing us on the Business Class counter, but they didn’t give us the name. We speculated that they either didn’t know, or they didn’t want more paperwork.
‘We would handle this internally,’ they said.
Pohan also asked about wanting to write a formal complaint, but apparently there was no such thing.
The manager did get the names of my family who were traveling, but I wasn’t sure what would be done. (I checked, none of family members got their seats upgraded in the flight.) Then they said that they would follow up with the lady who was servicing us on the Business Class counter.
(I kept mentioning ‘Business Class’ because even though my family were not flying Business, that was not the kind of service they should be giving to Business Class people, nor Economy Class people for that matter. There was no apology and no smile. She wasn’t showing an effort to be helpful towards us.)
They assured us that they would follow up with this incident. After more complaints and pleasantry had been exchanged, the man (not the manager), said that the policy changes a lot, so we should give different airlines and the airport a call on the policy on bringing honey inside checked-in luggages.
‘It’s not only us—many other airlines are currently being strict on their guidelines in bringing honey inside a checked-in luggage,’ he said. ‘But yes do give them and us a call in case there’s a change in the policy.’
The man apologised and was helpful towards us, and we were soothed for that fact, but still it didn’t calm me down.
So I took his advice. I called different airlines about their ‘honey policy’ on going on international flight from Melbourne, Australia.
Air New Zealand got back to me and said, ‘There is no restriction on the amount you [can] carry in your checked-in baggage.’
Etihad Airline said, ‘Bringing honey in checked-in baggage should not be a problem.’ The guy on the other side of the line was even confused on my question. He reiterated his point, ‘There is no restriction on bringing honey in checked-in baggages from the airline point of view.’
Qantas said, ‘You can take honey packed securely in containers as part of your checked baggage allowance. There’s no limit on the amount you can check in.’ Jetstar also mentioned the same thing, saying, ‘As an airline, we don’t have any restrictions on the amount of honey you can bring in your checked baggage, just as long as it is within your baggage allowance.’
AirAsia said, ‘There is no limit of honey to be taken in checked-in baggage, however, please make sure it is packed properly and does not exceed 1 L per package.’
Singapore Airlines said that the airline has no problem whatsoever in bringing whatever amount of honey on checked-in luggages—it’s a ‘customs problem of the country you’re departing from and arriving to’. FlyScoot also said that this ‘would depend on the country of arrival and their policy.’
Emirates said, ‘There’s no restriction whatsoever on the amount of honey you can take inside your checked-in luggage.’ The customer service lady even laughed a bit at my question.
I’ve called too many airlines to stop now, so to make a stronger case I called the Melbourne Airport and they said, and I quote, ‘That’s not our policy, you need to check with the airline you’re flying in.’ I even called the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and they said it depends on the airline.
But here’s the thing: The Garuda staff at the airport mentioned that the airline policy on bringing honey is to adhere with the LAGs policy, so this was what I did next.
I called the Australian Government Department of Transport Security—the very people who created the LAGs rule. They said, and I quote, ‘Liquids, Aerosols and Gels restriction only applied to carry-on luggage, they don’t apply to checked-in luggage. Honey is more [about] biosecurity than anything else.’
Yeap, I get it. Bringing honey in checked-in luggages is a customs problem, not a LAGs problem.
To further prove my point, I called the Garuda Indonesia customer service centres—yes, I called both the Indonesian and the Australian centres to ask about their honey policy. And they both said that there’s no restriction on bringing honey inside checked-in luggages. The Australian representative said, and I quote, ‘You can take as much as you want, as long as it’s within the 30 kg baggage allowance.’
So apparently the ‘honey policy’ is not implemented from Garuda, nor from the Melbourne airport, nor from the people who invented the LAGs policy in Australia.
The absurdity reaches a new high.
I think the man would regret advising me to ask around. Because I used to be a journalist, this is just occupational hazard, not a hassle.
In summary, we had a very bad experience with Garuda Indonesia service counter at the Melbourne International Airport, Tullamarine, on the 31st of July 2016 at around 12 to 1.30 pm in the afternoon.
The policy on being able to bring only one jar of honey per luggage is simply beyond comprehension, as there is no written policy, nor that we are informed about this policy beforehand—not on flyer, email, poster, paper nor on the Garuda website itself.
I am not sure how honey is considered as ‘flammable’, as the lady in the Business Class service counter said. If honey is indeed flammable, other airlines should be banning honey or limiting the amount of honey we can carry on their aircrafts as well.
Furthermore, I couldn’t verify what the man at the Special Assistance counter said on other airlines enforcing this strict guideline on bringing honey onboard, as eight other airlines are fine with passengers bringing a lot amount of honey in our checked-in luggages; nine if you count Garuda Indonesia Airline itself.
There wasn’t a convincing explanation on why we couldn’t bring more than one jar of 500 g worth of honey in one checked-in luggage. The policy on this specific matter wasn’t even written—Garuda staff at the Melbourne airport only showed us the policy line that said honey brought inside checked-in luggages need to be professionally packaged and adhere to the LAGs rule.
There’s no definition of how honey can be ‘professionally packaged’. We bought all our honey at reputable stores in Melbourne and New Zealand—none of the jars was opened. We even sealed them with our own duct tape to prevent leakage.
I’ve called and double checked with the Australian department who creates the LAGs policy, and apparently there is no such restriction that mentions only one honey per checked-in bag is allowed.
And overall, the service we received during this travel was just undeniably poor. There was no empathy exercised by the service staff. There wasn’t a smile nor apology from the lady on the counter. I understand that she might be just following orders and telling us what she was told, but her attitude was the trigger.
Garuda may have the best cabin crew for the third consecutive year, but if the service counter staff act like they would rather be someplace else and not helping us to fly properly, it is going to undo the cabin crew’s effort.
There is a reason that I feel more than compelled to document this incident. First is yes—probably I have too much free time on my hand, but I do feel that it’s important for me to stand up for myself.
We were not given the option to file a written complaint, even when we had approached the counter, verbally complained about the matter and asked to write a complaint form.
We want this matter to be recorded in the system and to be followed up, as it has caused us undue stress on a family occasion—spending 45 minutes at the check-in counter to get this sorted, as well as another 30 minutes to lodge the complaint.
My family flew back from their holiday in Melbourne with this incident at the back of their mind. It should have been a happy, bittersweet occasion.
Furthermore, we didn’t think it was right for the airline to implement a policy that didn’t exist per se, which caused us lost time and money, as well as stress and trouble.
I had checked with eight other airlines, the Melbourne Airport, CASA and the Department of Transport Security and no one reported such policy.
I even checked with the Garuda Airline customer service centres in Indonesia and Australia and they both said that I’m able to bring honey inside checked-in luggages with no restriction. I am not sure where the Garuda staff at Melbourne Airport had their policy from, but then in this case, it is utterly unacceptable.
(I have kept proofs of these calls and messages. It is not illegal in Victoria to record a phone conversation. Moreover, most of these phone conversations were being recorded by the airlines as well—at least, that was what I was told before I commence my conversation with the operator.)
When a policy is wrongly implemented, or that airline staffs are trying to dissuade a complaint because they don’t want to do extra work, to follow up or to do the paperwork, it’s just unreasonable.
It was unfair to my family for having to go through this honey incident, and it would be unfair to other passengers if a policy that had no basis was implemented. We were lucky to have carried eight checked-in luggages and able to bring all the honey jars onboard in the end.
If we were not, I would have created even more noise.
Passengers have the right to understand the policies at hand, and the airline staffs have the responsibility to adhere to the right LAGs rules, and to communicate these rules to the passengers.
Manuka honey is a well-known souvenir from Australia and New Zealand, and if passengers are only allowed to bring one honey per checked-in luggage, then honey shouldn’t be a well-known souvenir. Even the Duty Free shops inside the airport terminals sell manuka honey.
As I used to be a journalist, I know about defamation in Australia. That being said, I’m well within my rights to share my story truthfully in this case. My six family members can attest to the truth of this story, as well as my brother-in-law and my fiancée, who were all traveling to the airport at that time.
Probably the words are not the exact replica, but I’ve tried my best on showing the conversations as they are. I did omit some parts of conversations, such as:
- the lengthy talks I had with the lady at the counter about the baggage issues,
- the very brief conversation we had with another lady at the Special Assistance area, who mentioned that she was the one advising the lady at the Business Class counter on the honey issue; she then disappeared on the second leg of our complaint journey,
- the explanation that my brother-in-law gave to the man at the Special Assistance area on being a Medical Doctor who knows how the complaint system works when he was asking to file a written complaint, and
- Pohan’s conversation with the manager, who exchanged name cards and told us that they would follow up with the incident.
While the first three points were ‘extras’, the latter conversation between Pohan and the manager was omitted as it was not my story to tell. Specifically saying, the manager did not talk to me about the honey incident.
Names of the Garuda parties involved are omitted in this post.
Over twenty-four hours would have elapsed between the time of the incident and the time I publish this post. Consumer Affairs Victoria mentions that it may take seven to 28 days for a business to resolve a complaint. While this issue may or may not be resolved, it is my right as a consumer to share a truthful review on a business or service. As I mentioned earlier in this post, we had verbally complained about the matter, but were not given the option to do a written complaint.
It is not my intention to defame the reputation of the parties involved. But it is indeed my right to get a follow-up and an explanation on this case.