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Airline caps will bump 18,000 Australians off flights home

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According to airlines, 18,000 Australians will be bumped from flights back home in the next six weeks as a result of the Australian cabinet’s decision to cut the number of international arrivals in half until at least the end of August as reported in the SMH.

It means that the number of Australians who have registered their desire to return to the government, which is currently around 34,000, is likely to increase.

The Board of Airline Representatives of Australia’s Barry Abrams said last week’s decision had returned the industry to where it was last year when the government first announced a limit on the number of citizens who could enter the country.

Because of this decision, the price of scarce tickets skyrocketed into the tens of thousands of dollars, and thousands of people were repeatedly bumped from flights because there were more passengers than quarantine spaces.

He described the decision as a major setback because it came after a period of relative stability for airlines and returning Australians following the chaos that ensued when the caps were first implemented.

“Over the next six weeks, airlines will need to move 18,000 people from flights, that’s just the maths,” Abrams told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

“All of them will have legitimate and genuine reasons why they can return on those flights; it will be a very stressful situation for everybody.”

Abrams pleaded with passengers not to take their frustration out on airline staff.

“They’re operating in really difficult circumstances to keep Australia connected,” he said.

Because of this decision, the price of scarce tickets skyrocketed into the tens of thousands of dollars, and thousands of people were repeatedly bumped from flights because there were more passengers than quarantine spaces.

He described the decision as a major setback because it came after a period of relative stability for airlines and returning Australians following the chaos that ensued when the caps were first implemented.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison indicated last Friday that, subject to health advice, the flight cap would likely be extended for the rest of the year, but that the government would consider trialling home quarantine for returning vaccinated travellers.

Morrison later stated that the reduced international flight cap would most likely be in effect for the rest of the year, subject to health advice.

Abrams warned that most airlines had only just managed to break even on flights with the limited allowed number of passengers and increased freight loads and that some smaller carriers with fewer routes, for example, might abandon Australia entirely if they were only allowed to fly 10 passengers per flight.

Singapore Airlines has already halted ticket sales for October flights, citing reduced flight numbers.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne told 2GB radio that the government would operate 20 repatriation flights from India and Europe into the Howard Springs quarantine facility between now and September.

She declined to join in criticising airlines, as her Cabinet colleague Health Minister Greg Hunt did on the weekend when he accused carriers of price gouging.

“The restrictions that are in place in the international aviation environment due to Covid, the very, very difficult commercial environment in which they’re operating, I know that airlines that we’ve relied on have been doing all they can to return Australians,” the foreign minister said.

The decision to reduce inbound arrivals followed a Labour Premiers campaign to reduce the number of people going through hotel quarantine, which has been the source of Australia’s coronavirus outbreaks.

“If we have to choose between more people coming here or reducing those numbers for the next three months, which will make lockdowns less likely – I don’t think that’s a very difficult choice,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said last week before the national cabinet meeting.

Julian Hill, a Federal Labour backbencher who has been campaigning for foreign-born partners of Australians to be granted entry to Australia, said he was fed up with the government’s collective failure of political leaders to reunite families and get Australian’s home.

“How on Earth did Australia end up here?” he said.

“The rest of the world is opening up, yet Australia is abandoning our own citizens and cruelly keeping Australians separated from their loved ones indefinitely.

“Premiers arguing to cut arrivals is no doubt due to the Prime Minister’s failure on vaccines and quarantine but it’s still a pathetic admission of defeat.”

The government says since closing the borders in March 2020, 617,000 Australians have been able to return.

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