Australians attempting to fly home from South America say they are struggling to find their way to Argentina in time to board the planned Qantas repatriation flight from Buenos Aires to Darwin.
The repatriation flight, which will be Qantas’ longest-ever flights, is scheduled to leave on 5 October.
However, passengers booked on the flight have said Argentina’s strict border controls have made it nearly impossible to get to Buenos Aires from other parts of the continent, despite the Australian government promising to assist.
“I don’t know why DFAT chose Argentina in the first place,” Adelaide resident John Herriot told the ABC.
“It’s quite ironic that the flight back to Australia was quite easy to sort out, but now a two-hour flight from Chile to Argentina is now becoming a nightmare.”
According to Herriot, passengers have been informed they need to visit an Argentinian embassy in person in order to secure the correct travel permit to reach Argentina despite its closed borders, however this has proven difficult for anyone not currently residing in a major city.
“We’re in the palm of these people’s hands … if you’ve promised 200 odd people a flight you need to have thought the whole thing through before you tell them to go to Argentina.”
The Australian embassy in Buenos Aires reportedly contacted passengers onboard the DFAT flight last week to say it would assist them in securing the appropriate travel permits.
However, many onboard the flight are still without the required permits to get to Argentina, just days ahead of the repatriation flight home.
Further, some passengers have reported that Argentina’s strict border policies have led to them seeing their flights cancelled.
One couple told the ABC that they had spent 10 hours attempting to contact different embassies in order to secure a means to travel from Mexico to Buenos Aires ahead of the repatriation flight.
“We’ve now spent $1,500 on flights that are probably going to get cancelled, which means we will miss the DFAT flight,” they said.
The couple was informed by the Australian embassy in Mexico City that “due to limited flight options and strong competition for flights into Argentina, we encourage you to book any available transportation options from your current location to Buenos Aires that have a flexible cancellation process.”
A Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) spokesperson said the government was doing everything it could to assist Australians stranded overseas to return home.
“The Australian government continues to work hard to assist Australians to return, including helping them access scheduled commercial flights within passenger caps and implementing a schedule of facilitated commercial flights above the existing passenger caps to maximise quarantine capacity at the Howard Springs facility,” they said.
Last week, Australian Aviation reported that Qantas is gearing up to perform one its longest-ever flights connecting South America and Australia – via the South Pole.
The Flying Kangaroo will endeavour on the nearly 18-hour trip on 5 October, when it performs the repatriation flight from Buenos Aires to Darwin.
At nearly 14,700 kilometres, it will be one of the longest flights ever performed by Qantas’ 787 Dreamliner, and notably, will be transiting over Antarctica on its way home.
It’s quite rare for airlines to perform flights over Antarctica, as it was largely banned up until 2011 due to the continent being so far from any emergency landing point.
However, it is not unheard of for carriers to fly over the South Pole, with some of Qantas’ pre-COVID routes to South America taking this shortcut. And Qantas is no stranger to non-stop long-haul flights, particularly on its Dreamliners.
The airline’s longest commercial route (Perth – London) beats out its Buenos Aires – Darwin repatriation by just 185 kilometres.
With a total distance of 14,498 kilometres, the flight time clocks in at 17 hours and 20 minutes.
Qantas has said previously that its non-stop flights between Australia and London are likely to “be in even higher demand” after the COVID pandemic, as passengers attempt to avoid congested airports and long layovers.
Earlier this week, the airline confirmed that it would reroute its flagship London-Perth route to go via Darwin instead, due to Western Australia’s “conservative border policies”.
The move was made despite Qantas CEO Alan Joyce previously suggesting the airline’s Perth-London 787 Dreamliner service was the “best route on our network”.