UK-based Australians trying to return home for Christmas were dealt a new blow on Friday when British Airways scrapped plans to relaunch flights between the two countries in December.
The route was among 50 removed due to the UK entering a second nationwide lockdown that will, unlike the first, ban citizens from leaving the country for anything other than work purposes.
The industry body representing international airlines previously estimated that more than 100,000 Australians are stranded abroad looking to return home, with 30,000 alone in London. Many are struggling to secure flights back home due to ‘arrival caps’ reducing availability and increasing prices.
British Airways first cancelled its own kangaroo service, which stops at Singapore, in April and had hoped to relaunch the service next month, but has pushed that date back until January 2021.
Mark Muren, BA’s head of global sales, told Executive Traveller the decision was made in light of the new national lockdown requirements banning leisure travel.
“Policies are in place to ensure maximum flexibility for our customers,” said Muren. “If a flight is cancelled, customers will be entitled to a refund as per our standard customer guidelines. Our ‘Book with Confidence’ policy continues to offer the ability to change a flight, date or destination or request a voucher for future travel.”
The federal government has stepped in to help Australians stranded abroad by increasing the capacity of the NT’s quarantine facility and chartering a new round of repatriation flights from destinations including London and India.
The first from the British capital departed on 22 October and carried around 175 passengers, all of whom had to pay $2,000 for a ticket alongside a $2,500 charge for the time spent in isolation.
Boeing 787-9, VH-ZND msn 63390, left Heathrow as flight QF110 at 11:54am on the Thursday and landed in Darwin at 11:35am the next day, with no stops.
The use of the Howard Springs facility essentially adds another 250 spaces per week onto the nation’s controversial arrival caps, which stand at slightly over 6,000.
The ‘arrival cap’ 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.
Last month, the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA) also urged NSW to allocate domestic quarantine hotel rooms to overseas arrivals when the NSW-Victoria border reopens to allow more stranded Australians to return home.
“BARA understands that at present, each week some 1,600 people undergo 14 days of mandatory quarantine when they enter New South Wales from Victoria,” said BARA in a statement. “If, when the requirements on arrivals from Victoria are eased, this domestic quarantine capacity were allocated to international flights, it would make a big difference.
“Expanding the New Zealand Safe Travel Zone into all Australian states and territories and a regulatory framework that permits the commercial provision of quarantine services would also benefit Australians stranded overseas.
“Some 20 flights from NZ have been arriving in Brisbane each month carrying about 500 passengers who go into quarantine. That number could now go to Australians stranded in other overseas countries if the New Zealand Safe Travel Zone was expanded to Queensland.”
In September, Australian Aviation reported how hundreds of expats stranded in London due to Australia’s arrival caps branded moves by the local high commission to help as “too little, too late”.
The Australian high commission’s latest initiative included dispatching teams to Heathrow to personally help those who find their flights cancelled or delayed at the last minute.