Desperate Australians stranded overseas say “only the rich” are making it home as airlines prioritise those paying more to fly business class.
This follows the government’s move to clamp down on the number of people entering the country as coronavirus outbreaks continue to jeopardise health and maul the economy.
In some cases, would-be passengers are being asked to fork out more than $40,000 to upgrade to business class and ensure they can get on a flight home.
Those in economy class are having their flights cancelled at the last minute, or rescheduled for indefinite periods while being told purchasing business class upgrades they will get home quicker.
The government’s decision has plunged the plans of many trying to get into the county into chaos as they scramble to work out other plans.
Heather Cassidy, 35, and partner Adam had packed up their house in the UK, withdrawn their two young boys from school, sold their car and booked flights to Perth so she could take up her dream health-care job.
Friday was the last day she could leave the UK, as she had to be in Australia and out of quarantine to start work.
But because they couldn’t afford business class tickets they were told their flight was rescheduled again, and Ms Cassidy has missed out on her dream job.
“I did all the tests and exams, I got through … a week later, lockdown happened in England, but I got offered the job,” Ms Cassidy said.
“We booked with Qatar and they cancelled last week, so we rebooked, and it kept coming up rescheduled. They kept offering an upgrade all the time.
“They wanted $43,000! “I was like ‘Is this for my own plane?’ ”
“My job starts on August 3. Tomorrow was the last possible date I could go.
So I’ve left my job here, we’ve rented our house out, my husband had finished work, I took my kids out of school.
We’re sitting here now, as we have done for two days looking at suitcases that are packed and we can’t go anywhere.”
To add insult to injury, Ms Cassidy was told by the airline that if she had upgraded, she would have been able to get to Australia on time.
Yesterday we phoned them and the woman said, ‘I’ll be honest, the highest-priced tickets are getting to go first’,” she said.
“You paid a premium in economy, but basically if you pay for business you’ll get there’.”
Those who can’t afford to fly business class home are forced to wait. Ms Cassidy and her family have already sunk over $36,000 in plane tickets, visas and other expenses.
“I’ve lost my dream job now,” she said.
“My house is in a box. And more so, it’s horrendous for my kids. They don’t know if they’re coming or going.
Unless you have millions like Dannii Minogue you haven’t got a chance. If you’ve got the money you’re alright. The rich get in.”
Katherine Walker is now in Sydney quarantine with her family. But it took three cancelled flights, a lot of arguing – and they’re still $1400 out of pocket.
“It’s hard to get home for a lot of people. When you’re getting cancellations, and they’re saying, ‘we’re going to re-seat you 20 days from now’,” she said.
People are trying to get home, but it is really hard.”
Qatar and Emirates were contacted for comment but did not respond by deadline.
According to the Bureau of Statistics, 25,700 people entered Australia in June. Now, only 4000 Australian citizens and residents are allowed into the country per week.
On Monday, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham defended airlines raising their prices, saying it was only to be expected in the current economic climate.
“Airlines are doing it incredibly tough at present right now, we need to be mindful that the cost of tickets is expensive for the very few flights that are available and I know that puts people in tough, tough circumstances right now,” he said..
“But equally … the warning has been there for months now, encouraging people to come home.
If you wanted to come back you should have already come back in most circumstances.”
Many Australians overseas have hit back after being branded as “travellers”, saying they have been working and living overseas, where many have lost their jobs.
One Australian man, who did not want to be named, is returning in September after finishing his job in the UK. He said referring to returning Australians as “travellers” is “disingenuous borderline disinformation.”
“Most people are not hiking in Nepal or laying on a beach in Fiji,” he said.
You can’t expect people with a home and a job and a family in another country to pack up their entire lives in March like the government wanted.
“It would also be a disaster anyway because you’d have had literally hundreds of thousands of people turning up without jobs at a time when there are none.”
The government is currently working out commercial options to bring Australians stranded overseas home.
“The Australian Government continues to explore options to support Australians to access flights on a commercial basis,” a spokesperson for Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.
“Our global network of overseas embassies and consulates continues to provide consular services to Australians impacted by COVID-19 and the subsequent restrictions that have been put in place by governments.”