Australian officials have been sent to London’s Heathrow airport to help stranded Australian citizens find unused seats on available flights and get them back home. But is it just a publicity stunt?
In response to what is now a humanitarian situation that is rapidly spiralling out of control, the Australian High Commission in the UK has sent teams of Australian diplomats to Heathrow airport, to ‘assist and support stranded families and individuals return back home to Australia as soon as possible.’
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, there are now more than 25,000 Australians overseas who have registered an intention to return home. Though this number is estimated to be closer to 100,000 according to recent airline reports based on passenger enquiry.
Due to the government’s strict international arrival caps into Australia, many Australian citizens have been forced to camp at airports around the world, while they wait for a spare aircraft seat.
The international arrival caps, introduced in July, mean only 4,000 passengers can enter Australia each week. This means some international inbound flights are limited to only 30 passengers.
With such a limited supply of seats and a lottery-style scenario in terms of getting one, numerous people have been bumped off their flight home and forced to wait for another stand by seat at Heathrow Airport, in some cases for days.
What’s going on at LHR?
While the international arrival caps apply to all countries, the Australian high commission in the UK has been pressured to take additional measures to deal with the impacts of the caps due to the huge amounts of Australians stuck in the country.
“Caps on international passenger flows have made it harder to head home, but we’re determined to ensure every available seat has an Australian in it,”
The Australian High Commission via Twitter
A Facebook post by the Australian High Commission in the United Kingdom said that the teams are “helping to facilitate Australians returning home, and will deliver support in the event of disruption.”
“It’s tough to head home right now: but we’re determined to help and support however we can.”
Australian High Commission in the United Kingdom
If you or a loved one needs to contact the LHR based team, they can be found in yellow jackets in Terminal 2 or Terminal 5, or they can be contacted via Facebook or by calling 020 7887 5776 as requested to be connected through.
Meanwhile, airlines, such as Qatar, say they are working hard to support the repatriation of Australian residents, whilst also complying with the stern passenger cap restrictions.
“We will continue to work within the limited traffic rights framework granted by the Australian Government and remain ready to operate as many flights as possible to bring stranded Australians home.”
His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive
The current caps are expected to last until 24 October 2020 when the government say they will review the situation further.
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