Airlines say 30,000 Australians stranded in UK alone because of caps
London: A group representing the world's major airlines says there are 30,000 Australians stranded in the UK alone as a result of the cap on the number of citizens allowed to return home each week.
The figure is far higher than previously cited. The High Commission in London said 3800 Australians have requested to be allowed to go home while the federal government has said there were 30,000 registered in total with Australian embassies around the world.
The body representing major airlines that service the Australian market, including Qantas, Qatar, Emirates, Etihad, Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines, said passengers may not be able to return well into next year.
Airlines’ representatives want the weekly cap on international arrivals increased to say they can bring more people home to Australia.Credit:Getty Images
"International airlines have told the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA) that there are likely some 30,000 Australians in the United Kingdom seeking to return home," the board said in a statement.
"Under the current tight international passenger arrival caps into Australia, it will likely take well into 2021 to return all these Australians."
It said that many of its members had stopped selling tickets altogether because they could only sell about 30 seats per flight. This meant passengers were repeatedly bumped, often just hours before they were scheduled to depart, in favour of those paying higher fares.
Airlines, including Qatar Airways, have defended themselves against claims of price gouging, saying they are forced to charge business fares to operate with such limited capacity.
The board said it costs around $10,000 per hour to operate an international flight plus the extra $8000 per hour in fees airlines are required to pay.
"So far, a minimal capacity of only about five more seats a day above the international passenger arrival caps has been granted to speed up their return to Australia," director Barry Abrams said.
"This is paltry given the scale of the problem, and changes in international arrivals capacity are needed to properly fix the situation," Abrams said.
There are 20 airlines currently operating services to Australia. However, Qantas International has grounded its fleet due to the government's ban on travel in and out of the country and does not expect to resume flying until mid-2021 at the earliest.
Federal Transport Minister Michael McCormack has asked the states to raise the combined number of allowed arrivals by 2000 to 6000 per week by the end of the month. The matter will be discussed at meeting on Friday.
Currently, WA accepts 525 people per week, NSW accepts 2450, while Queensland has been accepting around 526 people per week, slightly higher than its stated cap of 500.
Under McCormack's proposal, WA and Queensland would both accept 1000 travellers weekly and NSW would boost its intake to around 3000.
Victoria was taking nearly 1800 passengers weekly before Premier Daniel Andrews shut down passenger flights to cope with the state's current outbreak.
Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan has proposed placing Australian citizens in immigration detention centres, including on Christmas Island, while they serve their 14-day quarantine. This suggestion was swiftly rejected by the federal government who holds responsibility for the centres.
Federal Labor has called on the federal government to take responsibility for a national return and quarantine system and has even proposed using the Prime Minister's designated jet to bring Australians home.
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