Travel has been one of the major casualties from COVID this year. With international adventures potentially not back on the cards until 2024, it’s looking increasingly grim. Getting a flight has been particularly tough for Aussie electrician Rob Heller, who has had a crazy 13 total flights cancelled this year.
Rob and his wife, Anne, are currently stuck in Kenya with a flight hopefully about to bring them home – finally. For context, they both have Australian passports and live in Adelaide, Rob works as an electrician and Anne as a mental health nurse.
They booked return tickets, Adelaide to Nairobi on January 24th at around $1,840 each – departing March 15th, returning April 15th. Anne was born in Kenya, and the trip was a planned visit Anne’s ageing parents.
Here’s where it gets a bit murky, friends.
So if you cast your memory back to mid March, COVID was about to enter full swing. And by the time Rob and Anne had left Adelaide, Smartraveller was suggesting Kenya had a high chance of “theft & chance of terrorism”, which then changed to “reconsider travel” – all while the guys were at 37,000 feet high.
By the time March 18th came, the advice was basically don’t travel to Kenya right now. And well as a result, the intended visit gradually changed into an endurance test.
Nairobi airport closed to all flights apart from freight on March 25th, a 7pm to 5am curfew was imposed, and three county borders locked – so there was no social activities really allowed at all.
“Wearing a mask in a public space became compulsory, with a $285 fine for non compliance,” says Rob.
“Schools, pubs and churches all closed. Curfew moved to 9pm to 4am on June 7th – which is still current today.”
Rob and Anne’s normal life over the past 155 days or so, has been stuck inside a predominantly gated, rural compound. Close contact has been allowed for family members only, apart from one outdoor lunch in mid June with eight mates and relatives – with everyone required to wear masks and sitting 1.5 metres away from each other.
Domestic flights started again on July 15th, with international flights following on August 1st. And this is where all the flight drama comes in.
During their time in Kenya, Rob and Anne have tried to arrange multiple flights – back into basically any Australian city they can get into.
Including seven flight cancellations to Melbourne, two cancellations to Perth, one cancellation to Adelaide – along with two connecting flights either out of Nairobi or into Adelaide. And get this, they had to contact a call centre in the Middle East to arrange the majority of these flights.
“There have been two repatriation flights as advised by the embassy that were to be booked direct with the airline through May and June with the cheapest being $3,900 per person,”
“They were one way to Australia, but the airline would not honour our existing return ticket, as they termed it “special” flights,”
Rob mentions how he and his wife have tried to trade off their existing flight tickets and pay the difference. Simply to purchase tickets for the repatriation flights, or for flights via London, Amsterdam or Malaysia – no luck with any of that, though.
And with the capped numbers of returning Australians only screwing up any attempted plans to get back.
“It’s now extremely rare to find a seat in economy for our one way path home for less than $3,800, with the biggest gouge noted being a business class flight at $19,950,” he said.
“Flight cancellations and being bumped from flights are common. And depending on the number of “travellers” who can afford the fares, along with the low numbers allowed into Australia, it often makes flights not financially viable for the airline,”
Rob said he personally spends a few hours a day checking their airline reference number (usually over five times per day) to see if their flights have been cancelled. It’s pretty poor form by the airlines, as the consensus from Aussies stuck overseas is that carriers rarely notify customers of changes.
But maybe the most frustrating part is how so many Australians seem to be hating on those stuck overseas. Rob mentions how people commenting on social media about overseas travellers – like him and his wife – haven’t made the experience any easier.
Officials from @dfat are giving evidence to the #COVID19 committee. They say there are some 19 000 Australians currently overseas who want to return home. Around 2000 of those are classified as ” vulnerable.” Almost 400 people have been given emergency loans.
— Stephen Dziedzic (@stephendziedzic) August 20, 2020
My own heart breaks every day that I’m isolated from my partner overseas. It breaks for other binational couples who can’t reunite. It breaks for Australians stranded overseas separated from family. What’s your heart like? @ScottMorrisonMP @PeterDutton_MP #AFairGoForLove
— Kristina 🇦🇺❤️🇧🇪🇫🇮 (@KSabaroedin) August 20, 2020
Wow, there’s only 8000 registered Australians currently overseas who aren’t trying to get home. I have serious ex-pat cred. pic.twitter.com/yfseal0BWf
— waegukin (@thewaegukin) August 20, 2020
“Suggestions from home of “you had plenty of time to get back” or “you should have come home earlier” were ludicrous and ill informed to us,” he said.
“Apparently in our absence we have been convicted of an undeclared crime, and on arrival will be greeted like a biohazard intent on invading the country and herded into a bus to a hotel,”
Arriving back for a guaranteed bill of about $3-$4,000 for hotel quarantine just adds insult to injury for these pour souls – many of whom have had to pack up their lives at the drop of a hat.
“We’ll be chewing on this bitter pill the government has dished up for years to come and I suspect you can visualise the position of our middle fingers,” Rob tells me, and paints a pretty fair picture to be honest.
Rob and Anne hope to be on a flight in the next 48 hours, but are also gearing up for a 14th cancellation. Ultimately, this is just another story of how many Aussies are stuck overseas, and trying to get back. Maybe just keep that in mind if you’re thinking about having a go at them on social media.
Image Sources: Unsplash