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.”
The current limits are: