I then asked whether air travellers had had anything confiscated by officials that is less offensive than a can of mosquito repellent. The answer was a resounding Yes.
Greg and Katherine Slay of Chichester flew in to Auckland on Air New Zealand. "We were required to hand over a one-ounce sealed jar of honey that we had acquired during the flight. Customs officials were under strict instructions to remove any potential sources of infection. Honey is listed as a high-risk item, even though it is readily exported and available around the world. We were intrigued, as all we had intended to do was to eat it."
A canister of honey is on its way to the Slays, but the prize of Mosi- guard mosquito repellent goes to Janet Laming of Cambridge. She writes: "On arrival at Dulles airport in Washington DC, I was handed a fearsome list of prohibited imports. I said lightly 'I've got an apple in my handbag'. The official loooked grave and beckoned to a colleague. I was led away to a private cubicle where my apple was solemnly confiscated.
"On my next visit to the United States I was greeted at immigration by an 11-year-old. It was Take Your Daughter to Work Day. If only I'd known, I could have taken an apple..."
Britain's airports are far from free of red tape, according to a Canadian visitor, Elizabeth Pollard. Ms Pollard has just returned to Ontario after a holiday here, and found that the procedures for reclaiming tax are much more complex than for British visitors to Canada. There, you can claim a cash refund on almost all your expenditure on the way home. Here, the bureaucracy is bewildering.
"On entering the country at Heathrow airport, I asked the Immigration official where I could get information on the VAT refund programme. I was told it was the responsibility of the Customs & Excise department, but apparently no one there knew how the scheme worked; I was given various answers to my question, all containing the word 'think'.
Ms Pollard battled through, and spent pounds 265 on various purchases. "On departure, I had my receipts certified at the VAT office at Heathrow, and was given a pamphlet entitled Traveller's Guide to the Retail Export Scheme. So on departure I was given the publication that I was told on arrival did not exist."
A quick calculation suggests that Ms Pollard was entitled to pounds 40 in tax back. In the end, she got just pounds 7.40 after various deductions were made. "I find this so-called tax back plan a thorough disgrace. If it cannot be operated properly for the benefit of Britain's overseas visitors, then it should be abolished."Reuse content