An Australian man in the UK who has terminal cancer says he is “over the moon” to have secured a flight home to Sydney, days after being told he had been bumped due to coronavirus travel caps.
Brendan Suggate has been barely able to leave his home in Surrey, outside of London, since having a tumour removed from his bowel in November.
He and partner Alison Bishop had booked a flight home for February 3 that would fit in with four cycles of chemotherapy for the stage 4 cancer that has spread to his liver.
But the 34-year-old’s plans were thrown into disarray last week when he was told by Qatar Airways he was unable to fly due to restrictions on the number of Australians allowed to return home each week.
The news came despite him advising the airline of his medical condition.
But thanks to an extraordinary campaign from his friends and family, who lobbied their local federal member, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, and New South Wales MPs, and with the intervention of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Australian High Commission in London, Mr Suggate said he and Ms Bishop were relieved to be flying home just a day later than scheduled.
Mr Suggate said the lengths people had gone to to help him was “overwhelming”, and the couple had been surprised to wake up to calls from Qatar Airways and from Australian diplomatic staff in London on Sunday morning local time after going to bed not knowing what lay ahead.
“We’re over the moon,” he said.
“It was such a shock.”
Mr Suggate says many Australians do not understand challenge of getting home
The trip will allow him to spend his remaining time among family and friends after the stress of having treatment on the other side of the world.
A keen climber, Mr Suggate thought the stomach cramps he was experiencing after climbing Ben Nevis in Scotland in October were due to overexertion or food poisoning.
But when they continued for several days, he visited doctors who found the pains were being caused by the pressure of a tumour.
His prognosis worsened in November and he was advised to head home sooner rather than later.
However, he could only travel within a 14-day window that allowed him to continue his chemotherapy.
After finding out last week his flight had been cancelled, diplomatic staff tried to get Mr Suggate on a repatriation flight to Darwin on January 30.
But having just had another round of treatment on Friday and not being able to access the medical care he needed in the Northern Territory, he had to hope he could get on another commercial flight to Sydney.
While feeling grateful his case has worked out, Mr Suggate says it is upsetting tens of thousands of Australians have been unable to travel sooner due to the passenger caps.
He said he felt many people in Australia did not fully appreciate how difficult it was for Australians overseas to get home, nor the high cost involved in doing so.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced last month that National Cabinet had decided to keep flight caps halved until at least mid-February due to concerns about new strains of COVID-19 escaping hotel quarantine.
While Mr Morrison said 79,000 Australians had returned home since September, there were an estimated 38,000 registered with DFAT as wanting to return home.
The restrictions have caused the cost of tickets to skyrocket, with Mr Suggate having been quoted between 3000 and 14,000 pounds ($5300-$25,100) to fly one way.
Mr Suggate said it could also be hard for Australians overseas to access reliable information, with them often being passed back and forth between the airlines and the embassy.
Mr Suggate says he “can’t wait” to get home and is looking forward to having a party at Balmoral in northern Sydney after completing quarantine and his next round of chemotherapy.
He said after being stuck inside for the past three months, he planned to enjoy the warm Sydney weather and visit cafes.