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30k Aussies are stranded in UK alone, say airlines

written by Adam Thorn | September 16, 2020

The industry body representing international airlines has revealed its members think there are around 30,000 Australians stranded in the UK and struggling to return home due to arrival caps.

The Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA) said on Wednesday afternoon it would take “well into 2021” to return them all and argued that helping those stuck at London Heathrow won’t help the root cause of the problem.

The statement came hours after Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said he had written to state premiers urging them to help lift the national cap by 50 per cent, from 4,000 to 6,000.

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 have been extended multiple times.

Critics have argued that decision has stopped Australians abroad being able to return home by reducing availability and increasing prices.


“Helping the Australians who are camped out at Heathrow Airport is necessary, but it does not stem the underlying cause of why they are stranded in the UK,” said BARA executive director Barry Abrams. “That requires an increase in quarantine capacity in Australia combined with a risk-based approach to managing COVID-19.”

Abrams said his members welcomed the commitment by the Deputy PM in increase the caps, but warned, “How useful it is to Australians stranded overseas will depend on when the permitted increases take effect and are incorporated into the per flight caps issued to international airlines.”

Deputy PM McCormack, who is also the Transport Minister, said he had written to NSW, Queensland and WA asking them to accommodate an additional 500 people per week into hotel quarantine and SA an extra 360.

“Those letters are telling them that’s what they, in fact, need to do, and I’ve had discussions with them,” Deputy PM McCormack said. “They know, they understand, this needs to happen.”

BARA also said airlines have little choice to but to charge high ticket prices due to high running costs and the ability to offer only limited capacity.

“International airlines can’t be expected to operate as charity services,” he said. “The problems in airfares stem from government decisions that mean aircraft land into Australia largely empty. It’s easy to criticise international airlines over airfares while ignoring the fact they are expected to pay commercial operating expenses for flights into Australia but can only accept a few passengers to cover these expenses.”

Earlier this week, Australian Aviation reported how hundreds of expats stranded in London branded moves by the local high commission to help as “too little, too late”.

Twitter user Sally Grove said, “How about instead of having to send traumatised people who arrive for flights to homeless shelters, you work with the airlines so the flights they’ve had booked for months actually leave and honour their bookings.”

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Comments (10)

  • Lizzie


    Airlines will still be operating at very low capacities even with this increase in arrivals.
    The Australian governments need to work with the airlines to allow them to operate each flight at a sustainable level, ie 100 per plan as stated by BARA. A co-ordinated approach at each major Australian airport, Sydney Perth and Brisbane to reduce the number of international flights per day but allowing them to bring in sustainable levels when they do fly. Emirates flys into Sydney 3 times a week. Reduce it to twice and have 100 people onboard each time. At the same time, sort out the quarantine mess. Quarantine should be the safest place so systems need to be providing the best service and manage more people.

  • Gary


    Aussies in the UK. Trendy hedonists who think being seen or located in the UK for summer and all those parties is more important than coming home (6 months ago), when they were aware of the developing situation. Let them come but the cost of travel is theirs alone.

  • Ronald Spencer


    There would be just as many wanting to leave Australia

  • Gary,
    As a dual citizen (Australian & British), I find your comments rather ridiculous. The fact is that it is all very well to say that Australians working overseas can just return at a moments notice, but the fundamental fact is that many cannot. To return means they have to give notice on their jobs. In some cases arrange to shut up their overseas houses or apartments, or give notice to rental tenancies. This takes time. Then on top of this many of these stranded citizens are in varying levels of employment. I for one have never been able to afford to fly in business class (and 1 way fares from UK to Australia are sometimes even double the normal return business class airfares, let alone the huge price increases being charged by the airlines operating the routes eg Emirates, Qatar etc. Note Qantas is not operating any flights, nor in Virgin. Yet back earlier this year, the Australian Government organised Qantas & Virgin subsidised flights to bring back citizens stranded abroad in the US, UK and even in China. Basically there are four issues. 1. The arrival caps. 2. The availability of quarantine locations/hotels, 3. The costs of accomodating returning citizens ie who pays for these costs (a) Returning travellers, (b) state Governments (c) state governments either fully or in shared costs. 4. The willingness of airlines to fly reduced services to Australia with full planes rather than more frequent planes with reduced numbers (as they are doing today) which means that in effect using aircraft such as A380’s or Boeing 777’s mean they are really only flying aircraft with Business Class seats fully occupied one way, with planes departing Australia basically empty.

    Right now this scandal with stories of Australians turning up to Heathrow Airport after leaving their jobs and giving up their rented properties to find that thy have been bumped off flights, because someone with more money can afford to pay business class airfares and then being sent to Homeless shelters is now becoming an International scandal. In the world media this story has now started to become Headline news with stories such as two on CNN one entitled “They’ve forgotten us’: Thousands of Australians stranded overseas in the face of government’s stringent border controls” and another which said that the Australian passport used to be one of the world’s best passports to have (rated 9th best), but now basically means it is one of the worst to have. There are just so many dreadful stories even with people starting their journeys, then getting half way and then being bumped off other flights eg in places such as Dubai .

    In my view what needs to change in this disastrous situation which now has become an International scandal for Australia is the following:
    1. Australian Government needs to organise some special flights from locations such as London/Capetown or Johannesburg/Delhi/Los Angeles if necessary chartering aircraft with passengers also asked to contribute standard economy airfares (pre pandemic) or using a number of the RAAF A330 MRTT aircraft (that can also carry passengers) that could for instance fly London (Heathrow or a UK Military airfield) to Diego Garcia for refuelling and then onto Darwin)
    2. The States need to lift their caps to at least a total of 6000 a week nationwide.
    3. Despite Premier Andrews unwillingness to allow International flights into Victoria, he should be pressed to allow special flights into Avalon and or RAAF Base in Sale, with Regional Victoria Hotels Quarantine allowed and run by the ADF (Not Victorian Government)
    4. Northern Territory Government has an established facility in the IMPEX facility that was previously used for Qarantining Chinese return travellers. That has a capacity of up to 3500 and is basically empty. the BNT seems willing to accept them if ADF and AUSMAT can run the facility. This could immediately make a difference increasing the cap by 3500 per fortnight
    5. Qantas/Virgin should be asked to provide aircraft for the special flights (as they were before). For flights from London , India or South Africa, they could fly into RAAF Learmonth or RAAF Base Curtin or AAF Base Pearce (so not breaching WA rules) then flying onto Darwin or other ports eg RAAF Base Sale or Avalon. Qantas has plenty of B787 that have the capacity and reach to fly London to Perth non stop and Virgin can easily use any of its 6 Boeing 777 to fly the US routes. Smaller numbers could be flown back on the 3 new Challenger 604’s.

    here steps would at least make a dent in this national scandal.

    Currently Australian citizens in Homeless shelters are bring told they may have to wait until January before they can get on any flights to Australia!. Just ridiculous!

  • Michael Evans


    for USA, where there are no or virtually no interstate flying restrictions, we can start bringing Australians home in December, into Brisbane, Sydney & Melbourne, flying a scheduled airline, if they can get to LAX or SFO (we already have allocations of seats), if airline thinks it’s worthwhile to operate flights.

    Cost would be from around AUD$750/person one way, as long as govt let’s us fly into at least 150 passengers at a time, even if only 1 flight per week.

    We don’t get involved in any quarantine arrangements at Australian end, if that still exists.

  • I have no sympathy for the majority of those effected. State leaders warned them back in March to return home as soon as possible. This group chose to stay on largely in Covid ravaged UK and not follow advice.
    They can pay their way and plenty of money for quarantine. Not a day goes by when there isn’t a report of Covid positive cases in quarantine. Maybe we should totally ban arrivals from USA, UK and India and see the cases start to disappear.Wonder if only option was into Darwin and put into the 1,000 person camp for quarantine how many won’t want to come. beat up by International airlines yet again.

  • cj


    Cairns has 1000s of empty beds. Perfect place for quarantine, as much easier to manage in a small town than in big city.

    Cairns runway can take any big jet.

  • Siobhan McCammon


    Gary, yours is a sadly compassionless reply and shows a complete lack of understanding of the complexities surrounding the issue. From your reply, the government have succeeded in classing Australian CITIZENS who didn’t return in May as irresponsible etc. Why on earth should an Australian be refused entry to the country of their CITIZENSHIP and also then blamed when they didn’t return by a certain date. The PM said himself that when the crisis unfolded that people should “stay put”. Can’t have it both ways. I am an Australian living in London. My 92yr old mother declined suddenly last month. Am I wrong wanting to come back and be with her when she dies? According to you I am! This type of attitude is a sad indictment of the country as a whole – lacking humanity and common sense. Australia has become a prison again.

  • Raife


    Speaking of risk based approach: It would good to know what percentage of people test positive in week two of quarantine versus week one. I suspect the vast majority are picked up in week one. Perhaps simply reducing hotel quarantine to one week in duration would help to dramatically increase caps with a small increased risk of importing Covid-19.

  • harry


    As many of you have commented, the PM said if you have accommodation stay put. Also, australia were not exactly early with the announcement. By March 17th when pm said come home many countries in europe had already shut their borders. not all aussies are in uk

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