The industry body representing international carriers now says most airlines stopped selling tickets to stranded Australians “months ago” due to the country’s international arrival caps.
The Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA) has predicted that more than 10,000 of those who have registered to return will be left overseas by the end of 2020 – with the actual number attempting to get back far higher.
“There have been welcome increases in the total permitted arrivals each week, including the planned initial re-opening of Melbourne Airport, bringing permitted arrivals into the major capital city airports to about 6,000 per week from early December,” said the organisation in a statement. “It is not enough, however, to meet the demand that exists.”
BARA, which has made numerous interventions over the last few months, said official waiting lists don’t tell the whole picture of how many Australians are stranded abroad. It has previously estimated the actual figure to be as high as 100,000.
“The number of Australians overseas seeking to return home before the end of 2020 but now without an option to do so far exceeds the immediate waiting list of at least 10,000,” BARA said.
“This is because to meet the tight international passenger arrival caps, which were implemented with very short notice, many international airlines were forced to stop selling tickets some months ago.
“This means that the estimated immediate waiting list of 10,000 Australians overseas after airlines have booked flights to the permitted caps, does not include those who have been unable to book a ticket or join a waiting list”
The industry group again called for Australia to allocate domestic quarantine hotel rooms to overseas arrivals when more domestic borders reopen.
“Based on the data available to BARA, the re-opening of domestic borders could permit an additional 2,000 international arrivals each week through the reallocation of domestic quarantine capacity to international arrivals,” said executive director Barry Abrams.
“The decision as to whether more Australians can return home prior to 31 December now ultimately rests with the individual state governments, who must decide if international arrivals can use the freed-up domestic quarantine capacity. For their part, international airlines are already providing more than enough flights and seats to return these Australians home.”
It also hinted that the country should consider switching to using home isolation with electronic tagging for those returning from lower-risk areas.
“We need to move ahead with applying a risk-based framework, including the electronic processes that will be needed for the future of international travel,” said Abrams.
“Member airlines are available and committed to working through the issues with all levels of government in Australia, their departments and health authorities, to ensure the sound application of a risk-based framework of international travel to and from Australia.”
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.
Critics have argued that decision has stopped Australians abroad being able to return home by reducing availability and increasing prices.
Despite the ‘cap’ lifting from 4,000 to 6,000 and a special use of the Howard Springs facility being green-lit last week, BARA is urging states and the federal government to do more to raise the limits.
The organisation has previously estimated more than 100,000 Australians are stranded abroad looking to return home, with 30,000 alone in London.