Australians returning from overseas on economy fares say airlines are cancelling their seats unless they upgrade to business class as international arrivals are reduced from today.
- The number of international arrivals into Australia has been reduced
- Returning Australians say they cannot get home
- Economy passengers are losing seats in favour of business passengers
The National Cabinet decided on Friday that weekly arrivals into Australia would be cut from about 6,500 people to about 4,000 to ease pressure on hotel quarantine.
The further restrictions have caused panic among returning Australians like Jim Collins and his family, who have been trying to get home to Tasmania from the UK since March.
“We’ve repeatedly tried to get flights … And every time we’ve been able to do that, the flights have been cancelled,” he said.
Mr Collins told 7.30 his family were rebooked to fly to Sydney last week but their seats were cancelled because they held economy tickets.
“We were told that the flight had been cancelled,” he said.
“But the flight actually went ahead.
“As best as I know, all economy passengers were cleared off the flight to make room, with a 50-person limit [for flights arriving at] Sydney Airport, for premium passengers only — first class and business class.”
Mr Collins travelled to the UK with his wife Cathy and their children in early March to visit relatives.
“We’ve done everything we could within our financial means to get home,” he said.
“Now it appears that it’s only if you can afford a first class ticket or a business class upgrade that you’re being allowed in.”
‘I couldn’t afford to upgrade so I was bumped off that flight’
Rebecca Halligan is a doctor from Adelaide who has been living in the UK and working in hospitals there for the past two years.
She told 7.30 she was unable to return to Australia any earlier because at the height of the pandemic she was redeployed to treat COVID-19 patients in ICU.
“Initially I had booked a trip to Melbourne … however that was cancelled with the increase in cases there.
“So I was rebooked to Sydney and then a cap was introduced with only 50 passengers allowed per flight.
“I was called by the airline and told that … they were prioritising business class passengers.
“I couldn’t afford to upgrade to business class so I was bumped off that flight.”
The airline rebooked her on a flight to Perth.
“I had an offer to upgrade to a business class seat,” she said.
“And I thought, I’ll just put this on my credit card so I can guarantee a spot … which I know not everyone is in a position to do.”
Dr Halligan arrived in Perth on Friday and is now in hotel quarantine.
‘Praying our flights don’t get cancelled again’
Australian filmmaker Katy-May Hudson said if her flight later this week from the US to Australia is cancelled, her only chance of getting another flight might be to book business class.
“The last time we checked those [business class] flights were at $US24,000 ($34,500),” she said.
Ms Hudson has lived and worked in New York for nine years. Her husband, Sean, is also Australian and they have a young daughter and another child on the way — Ms Hudson is five months pregnant.
They had a flight booked in May but it was cancelled. Ms Hudson said complications with her pregnancy meant she could only travel in her second trimester.
“It’s important for me to get home as soon as possible. For one, I’m pregnant and if I don’t travel in the next month, I have to have a baby here. And it doesn’t feel safe to have a child — I’ve already had one child here and I never want to have a child here again. God bless America but … the health system is a huge issue.”
On Monday, the family is flying from New York to San Francisco, where they face an anxious wait to see if they make their scheduled flight to Sydney on Wednesday.
“We’re just hoping and praying that our flights don’t get cancelled again and we’re not stuck in this limbo where we’re stuck in San Francisco where COVID-19 cases are rising,” Ms Hudson said.
“If I can’t get that flight to Sydney, I’ll be stranded in an unknown place with a high-risk pregnancy and no medical team and my small toddler.”
‘This thing is dangerous and it’s real’
Adding to the list of Australia’s COVID-19 cases is Melbourne man Hassan Gudal, who tested positive late last week.
The auto glass technician had been vigilant throughout the pandemic, washing his hands multiple times a day, not touching his face and carrying hand sanitiser in his work van and at home.
“If I get the virus I think a lot of people will get it, because I was always aware this thing is dangerous,” the 35-year-old from Carlton told 7.30.
Mr Gudal suspects he contracted the virus while working in a hotspot suburb. The main symptom he has experienced is losing his sense of smell.
“My smell is zero, I cannot smell anything. It’s very, very weird,” Mr Gudal said.
Watch this story tonight on 7.30.