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Forgotten chicken sandwich left in bag on flight cost woman thousands in fines

Retiree June Armstrong, 77, from New Zealand, was flying into Brisbane, Australia in May but had forgotten that she was carrying a sandwich – which can be considered a biohazard to the country’s notoriously strict customs control

The woman was fined after travelling through Australia's notoriously strict customs control with a sandwich
The woman was fined after travelling through Australia’s notoriously strict customs control with a sandwich

An elderly pensioner faced a costly nightmare after forgetting a sandwich in her backpack while flying abroad.

June Armstrong, 77, from New Zealand, was at Christchurch Airport for an early-morning flight in May when she picked up a muffin and gluten-free chicken a lettuce sandwich. Eating the muffin, she completely forgot about the sandwich – which was sealed – and left it in her bag thinking she’d go back to it during the three-and-a-half hour flight.

During the flight, the 77-year-old decided to have a snooze so didn’t have the urge to fish out her sandwich. Even when she reached Australian customs – which is notoriously strict when it comes to food items – she forgot she had it and therefore forgot to declare. It wasn’t until Australian Border Force officials checked her backpack that she realised the pricey mistake she’d made.

At the airport she burst into tears after being slapped with an eye-watering £1,731 fine. Speaking to the New Zealand Herald, she said: “I was just sobbing and said ‘$3,300 for a little sandwich?”

She had the option to appeal within the 28-day payment period, but after getting nothing but automatic responses, she ended up coughing up the hefty sum so she wouldn’t be breaching the deadline.

“My husband kept saying, “Just pay it”. I said, “It’s our pension, we can’t afford this”.’ June is still contesting the fine, which she says has been gruelling and taken a toll on her physical and mental health.

In her submission to the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, she wrote: “I think of it night and day, I now am on sleeping tablets. I am consumed by how much this fine was and how much it will affect our lives.” Australian officials have yet to respond to her requests and she says she’s becoming resigned to the fact that this fine may be upheld. Instead, she hopes that her experience will help others to not make the same mistakes.

“I should let it go, and my husband says I should, but they just don’t give me any answers,” Ms Armstrong said, adding: “Everybody I show the fine to is dumbfounded, they just can’t believe it.” According to Australian customs rules, food items being transported into Australia must be declared on their incoming passenger card.

The ABF website explains: “Biosecurity officers may need to inspect some of the food you’re bringing with you.” Bread products are allowed to be brought in for personal consumption but they are a problem if they contain meat or uncanned animal products, reports the MailOnline. For travellers who fail to declare the items which pose a “high level of biosecurity risk”, they can be fined $3756 depending on “the risk of the goods”.


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