Stranded Brit who had public breakdown in Australia after five plane tickets were cancelled finally escapes to UK – The Sun
WHEN I planned a three-month trip travelling across South East Asia and Australia as an exciting adventure to kick off 2020, I didn’t envisage it would end early, with me having a public breakdown in Sydney airport.
But then I also didn’t envisage that the world would turn into a giant disaster movie, with a global pandemic resulting in the lockdown of cities and a transformation of life as we know it.
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And to be fair, it wasn’t actually that public a breakdown, as the airport was virtually empty thanks to a near total grounding of planes.
In fact, there were probably more news crews reporting on how there were no flights and passengers, than there were flights and passengers.
The reason for my meltdown, which found me metaphorically sobbing on the shoulder (we were social distancing) of a sympathetic Border Agent? The fourth flight I had booked to get me home from Australia had been cancelled. And then the fifth, too.
At this point – nearly a week after the Foreign Secretary's announcement that British citizens travelling abroad should return home as soon as possible – I was £2,500 down in ticket costs and seriously running out of options.
It might not sound like that big a deal. Oh, poor you, you’re stuck in Australia. With gorgeous weather, beautiful beaches, and epic scenery. Throw another shrimp on the barbie and stop crying. And, believe me, I might previously have responded the same way.
However, this wasn’t like finding out you have to stay another night on your package holiday because of a baggage handlers strike or a budget airline going bust.
This was the very real prospect that I could be stranded on the other side of the world, alone, with no friends and no family, no money and no visa, no accommodation and no ability to go out anywhere or do anything, and with no real idea of when this would end.
Yes, people were talking about a two week isolation period, but others were saying it was far more likely these restrictions would be in place for months.
Throw in the fear of what would happen if I contracted COVID-19 myself and became ill, would I be able to access healthcare, and hopefully you can understand the tears.
Only a week before I had been staying out on the Great Barrier Reef – snorkelling, sunbathing and stargazing, with no wifi or phone signal and no sense of how terrifyingly fast things were changing.
But once back on dry land and re-connected, it became clear that I needed to get home fast.
Easier said than done. Especially with an 11 hour time difference, and the almost impossible task of trying to speak to travel agents, airlines, insurance companies and the British Consulate.
Automated messages, three hours on hold, each company telling you to contact the other, unclear and unhelpful tweets from the embassy, a lack of clarity from governments, decisions changing all the time.
Meanwhile, the WhatsApps were flying thick and fast from home telling me how terrible and scary things were, and that I needed to get back immediately, as Boris was about to lockdown the entire country.
I spent hours on the phone, and five hundred pounds, to change the dates of my original return flights, only for them to become invalid when the UAE closed their airspace.
I rebooked with another airline to travel through Hong Kong, who then announced they wouldn’t be letting any passengers transit a mere half an hour after I’d paid over a grand for a new ticket.
Not that they bothered passing this message on, so it was only once in the queue to check in at the airport that I discovered this news.
As the afternoon wore on, and we all raced to buy new tickets, Singapore and Malaysia then did the same.
Although nobody was telling us desperate passengers this, and in fact numerous airlines and agencies were still selling tickets online, despite them already being invalid, and at ten times the usual fare.
I experienced a wave of relief when I managed to get booked on a flight via Perth, only to learn shortly afterwards it had in fact been chartered by the Irish Government and so only passengers with a Republic of Ireland passport were allowed on board. Cue the meltdown.
Obviously I wasn’t the only traveller at the airport experiencing this horror show.
I already knew through the Facebook group Brits Stuck in Australia that there were hundreds, in fact thousands of us, and the camaraderie as we swapped tales of woe in various airport queues was something of a comfort.
But there was also a strange competitive edge, with the knowledge that if those people ending up getting seats on a flight it probably meant I wouldn’t.
The one ray of hope was a Qantas flight the following night: the route had been changed so it would stop to refuel in Darwin, with a whopping 17 hour second leg, meaning no other country’s airspace would be involved.
So as long as the Australian and British Governments didn’t change their minds in the next day or two, I was heading home.
Although I already knew I’d be spending the next 32 hours in a constant state of panic that this one would also be cancelled. And wouldn’t really believe I was going to make it back until the plane took off.
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But take off we did. And 25 hours later I found myself for the first time ever being one of those people who clap when the plane lands. Out of sheer relief.
Then there was more applause (and tears), following an emotional announcement from the flight crew who had helped us all get home safely on their last shifts for who know how long.
On one of my last days in Sydney – a city I know and love well – I walked to Circular Quay to sit and look out over the incredible view of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, and had been saddened to see the place almost completely empty and with everything shut; the lack of tourists, ferries and traffic creating an eerie silence.
A few days later, as I travelled back from Heathrow across a locked-down London, I had the same uneasy sensation – realising this simply wasn’t the same city I had left ten weeks earlier.
But despite all that, there’s no place like home.
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