A Melbourne woman trying to get home from Canada says she feels abandoned by Australia, with airport arrival caps and controversial airline policies prioritising business-class passengers leaving her stranded and at-risk.
Catherine Creber has been trying to get home for months, after losing her job, being rejected for a Canadian visa and being cut off from government support.
Multiple flights have been cancelled at the last minute, forcing her to fork out $10,000 for several tickets, with nothing to show for it.
“I don’t feel safe being here and not having access to any support,” Ms Creber told The New Daily from Toronto.
“It feels like my country doesn’t want me to come home.”
Strict airport arrival caps into Australia have been in place for months, in an attempt to limit numbers and ease strain on the hotel quarantine system.
The system has been praised as one of the key policies in helping stop new COVID outbreaks.
Only a few hundred people are allowed into Australia each day, with flights few and far between, and the caps mean airlines are only boarding small numbers of passengers on each plane.
This has created a situation where airlines are allegedly prioritising business-class passengers paying for expensive tickets, and pushing those with economy tickets down the list.
Or, in Ms Creber’s case, off the plane all together.
“I have been bumped off four flights since July,” she said.
“First it was pushed back a week, then two weeks, then three weeks.”
Ms Creber has been living in Toronto for two years.
She worked in hospitality, had a Canadian partner and a lease on a house. She planned to ride out the coronavirus situation in Canada, not intending to return to Australia but to stay and extend her visa for several more years.
But the pandemic has hit Canada too.
The country has recorded 130,000 cases and more than 9100 deaths, with strict lockdowns like much of the world.
Ms Creber lost her job in March, then her visa application was rejected, which meant she no longer qualified for unemployment benefits.
The lease on her house ended in June and she had to move out.
She said she has been trying to get home for months.
“We didn’t know there would be a second wave in Melbourne. I was safe here, had a roof over my head, I thought I may as well stay and ride it out, then get home when it’s safer,” Ms Creber said.
“If I was able to get an extension on my visa, my work was happy to keep me on. I wanted to stay. I had a partner and friends.
“But it’s been horrible. Canada doesn’t want me. They didn’t extend my visa and now my health insurance is running out.”
Several flights were cancelled on her in the middle of the year.
She then booked new flights on a different airline in June, but a bike accident left her with serious injuries and a concussion, forcing her to delay the flight.
“The delays have been really draining. It’s been hard to keep saying goodbye to my friends, and then having flights cancelled at the last minute, so I don’t actually leave and then don’t know how long I’m staying,” Ms Creber said.
“My lease ended in June, I sold everything. I’m living out of suitcases.”
Despite asking the airline for special consideration to be put on a flight home, due to her injuries, Ms Creber said she was again bumped off the lists.
“They were still prioritising business class over health issues, and that’s when I got really p—ed off,” she said.
Borrowing an extra $5000, she upgraded her ticket from economy to business, hoping the change might finally get her home.
She’s currently booked to fly back to Australia this week on Qatar Airways.
“It’s just disappointing. I feel very blessed to be in a situation where I have resources that can help me, but some families wouldn’t have that position to afford upgrades on a few flights,” Ms Creber said.
“Even for my flight next week, there’s still this simmering doubt.
“I’m just waiting for that email that it’s cancelled. The second wave is bound to happen in North America any time soon. I just want to be home.”
Friends have set up a crowd funding page to help her raise money for the upgrade to get home.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is reportedly examining claims of airlines prioritising business passengers over economy on such flights.
The arrival caps are scheduled to stay in force until October 24, with Sydney only accepting 325 people per day and other capitals abut 500 a week, but the federal government is under pressure to lift the caps.
Acting chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly said last week the caps were unlikely to be changed soon.
“The restrictions at our international border has been a very important component of our control of this pandemic here in Australia from the beginning … a crucial component of that control,” he told The New Daily at a press conference.
“It will be discussed at every national cabinet from now on, about whether those caps should be changed. At the moment they will stay as they have been.”