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It’ll take six months to return Aussies with caps, say airlines

written by Adam Thorn | August 28, 2020

AIRBUS A340 600 ETIHAD SYD 0410 RF IMG_3785
An Etihad Airbus A340 600 takes off from Sydney Airport (Rob Finlayson)

The industry body representing international airlines in Australia predicts it would take its members six months to return all citizens stranded abroad if the current cap system isn’t relaxed.

The Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA) said on Friday that it thinks the actual number wanting to come back is as high as 100,000, and not just the 19,000 who have registered with the government.

The restrictions limiting the number of Australians who could fly home at any one time were first introduced in July to regulate the flow of people arriving into government quarantine facilities and were extended again last Friday. However, many have blamed the system for reducing availability and hugely increasing the cost of flights.

BARA’s airlines provide 90 per cent of all international passenger flights to and from Australia, and notable members include Qantas, Virgin, Qatar, Singapore, Etihad and Emirates.

Executive director Barry Abrams said, “Based on the current ability to return less than 4,000 Australians per week, often at only 30 passengers per flight, it would take some six months to cover 100,000 Australians overseas. If the current tight international arrival caps continue, it could be some people will be unable to return home before the end of 2020.

“International airlines have told BARA they’re continuing to receive many hundreds of requests for priority travel back to Australia on compassionate grounds. International airlines are effectively ‘triaging’ the many cases put to them in the context of an already long passenger waiting list.

“With passenger numbers on many arriving international flights capped at about 30, the cost per passenger equation becomes terrible for airlines and passengers. Commercial viability can become particularly problematic if strong outward passenger loads are also not possible. If the tight arrival caps continue, it will also ensure the limited outbound passenger market deteriorates.


“Given the existing backlog of passengers, greater flexibility within caps would also mean international airlines are better placed to support hardship cases, as there are plenty of spare seats on every flight.

“International airlines will continue to work with all levels of government in finding workable solutions for returning Australian citizens home during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

On Friday, Australian Aviation published comments from readers stranded abroad furious at Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s letter that appears to blame them for their struggles to return home.


Kathryn, a nurse working six days a week with four children, wrote in a comment how her husband in Portugal has had 15 flights home all cancelled. Chris argued he can’t leave Malaysia without facing arrest and detention, while Julie revealed her husband was in a coronary care unit before the international caps were implemented.

When the cap was first introduced, the Prime Minister said there would always be “capacity” for people to return home.

“There will be continuing access to Australia but the number of available positions on flights will be less and I don’t think that is surprising or unreasonable in the circumstances,” PM Morrison said.

The current limits are:

  • Melbourne – no international passenger arrivals;
  • Sydney – 350 passenger arrivals per day;
  • Perth – 525 passenger arrivals per week;
  • Brisbane –500 passenger arrivals per week; and
  • Adelaide – 500 passenger arrivals per week.

Comments (6)

  • Mervyn Davis


    If the Caps were kept at the level that they are would be ok IF it didn’t include Australian Citizens or PR’s.

    But it is a slap in the face to those of us stranded overseas to hear that the horse racing teams are allowed to travel into Australia with exemptions in time for the Melbourne Cup etc

    Nevertheless, the government had set a precedent by organizing repatriation flights for Australians stuck in Wuhan, South America and India earlier in the pandemic.

    “The government has recognized in this way that it’s got a duty of protection towards Australian citizens,”

    Source: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/aug/26/constitutional-question-is-it-legal-to-limit-how-many-australian-citizens-can-fly-home-each-week#_=_

  • Peter M


    Everybody had the same news I and many others had when I cut my losses and came home in March. Cant take the dumb out of dumb. Now they want the government to fund repatriation…

  • Lorna Whitwam


    This is impacting so many people. I’m 7.5 months pregnant and trying to get my baby’s dad here from Germany. He’s already been bumped once and if it keeps happening he’ll likely miss the birth 🙁 Fingers crossed his Cathay booking goes ahead.

  • Matthew Wuillemin


    So why are the inbound destinations so limited ? Darwin / Adelaide / Hobart … plus Learmonth , Scherger , Woomera , Weipa , Williamtown , Sale , Alice Springs Tindal. Port Headland etc – all could take some level of inbound pax , if appropriately staffed and acceptable accomodation available. Yes its limited But better than nothing

  • AgentGerko


    I would be very interested to know how many of these people wanting to “come home” are dual passport holders who, having achieved a valuable Aussie passport, moved permanently abroad, perhaps to their country of origin, and only want to “come home” because they see Australia now as a covid-safer country than their country of residence.

  • What about the people who could not return in march or april or may due to that country being in quarantine and not allowing any travel within that country!!!!! Didn’t think about that scumbags did we? NO, short sighted man with little or no empathy for truely stranded Australians!!!!!!!

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