Supplied by Lauren Crupi
Freedom is upon us, and while we all take our first celebratory sip at the pub, spare a thought for our fellow Australians stranded overseas. They may have avoided prolonged state lockdowns, but what they’ve faced while stranded in a foreign country is something they will never forget.
More than 45,000 Australians are registered as wanting to return home from overseas, 4,700 of whom are considered vulnerable for reasons such as medical issues or the expiration of their visas.
25-year-old Lauren Crupi, one of the 45,000, left her home in Melbourne in 2018 to live and work in Europe and the United Kingdom for a few years. When the world began to change in March 2020, Lauren knew she wouldn’t be able to return to Australia for a quick visit any time soon.
“After the first wave, we decided to wait until the caps and quarantine were gone before we left [for Australia]. Obviously later realising this wasn’t going to happen anytime soon, the pressure of not being home for three years felt bigger and bigger every day,” she says.
After meeting her partner, local Englishman Andy, the pair made the decision to plan a move to Australia, to justify the costs involved for the previously planned visit.
Lauren has been trying to get flights back to Australia for her and her partner for 18 months. Struggling to find any clear information on government websites, she found Facebook page, ‘Australian’s stranded in the UK’.
“We learnt that to have any chance [of getting a flight home], our best bet was to pay a bit extra and book with an agent. The flight price was double what you would normally pay. Pre-Covid, you would expect to pay around $1000 for a one way from London to Melbourne. The price we paid was $2700,” says Lauren.
“I have a friend that paid $5000 one way to return in July.”
With two weeks left until Lauren and Andy’s flight, they had packed up their lives in London and were staying at a friend’s place for the meantime. Everything they owned was packed into a suitcase.
“Then I got the dreaded email that our flight was cancelled. My first reaction was to call the Australian Embassy. They said they could do nothing to help me. There is no way to get home other than to try and get a DFAT flight. They couldn’t really help me with that either, it’s luck of the draw. I called my airline, and they didn’t have any seats until March 2022.”
At that point, many other flights to Australia had been cancelled, and the demand for DFAT flights was growing rapidly.
“It literally felt like Hunger Games for flights,” says Lauren.
To begin the DFAT flight process, Australians need to register online and explain why they’re vulnerable. Lauren stressed the importance of this, otherwise no one will respond to you. If successful, you get placed on a list to receive an email when a flight becomes available.
“I was so anxious,” says Lauren.
“DFAT send an email from Canberra with a link to buy the flights and an approval code. The email can be sent at any time during the month between 6am and 12pm UK time. The previous month’s flights sold out within five minutes of the email being sent, so that meant we needed to be on our emails all the time.
“We were waking up every day at 6am. I would have to go to work at 7:30am. I would travel with anxiety every day because what if I missed it?
“My partner and I hardly slept the week they came out. We would sleep with our phones on loud and every time we heard a ding we would jump, and our stomachs would drop.
“We had my mum checking the emails in Melbourne too.”
DFAT released the email at 8:20am on a Friday, when Lauren had just arrived at work.
“My partner was at home and on it straight away and bought the tickets in two minutes. They sold out in seven,” says Lauren.
“If he was in the shower, he would have missed it. It seems crazy that something that would impact our lives so much could be missed by something so small.”
Even with a flight booked for October 30, the struggle continues for Lauren and her partner.
“There are so many hoops you have to jump through before you even get on the flight that make the whole process way more stressful than it needs to be,” says Lauren.
“Lots of tests and confusing forms. The tests must be taken at specific testing centres, which make it really hard for people that don’t live in London to do.”
Fellow Australian Angela Foreman has also struggled with the cancellation of flights home, departing Melbourne in May to work at a summer camp in North Carolina, USA. She was due to come home on October 15, however, her flight was cancelled in early September.
“At one point due to a death in the family the process was very stressful as I was wanting to go home instantly. However, once I realised that wasn’t possible and that being patient was my only option, I booked the first flight in November,” says Angela.
Flight Centre travel agent, Veronica Neale says things are still very unpredictable when it comes to closed borders and availability on flights.
“I believe it will also depend on which state you are from and what rules there will be,” she says.
“Once the borders do open, more flights will become available, and the return flight cancellations will be reduced.”
American Emily Goldstein has also been studying the border restrictions between countries. After starting a post-graduate degree and meeting her partner in Brisbane in 2020, Emily knew she wouldn’t be able to come back to the life she’s built here if she was to visit her family back in Florida.
“I debated do I go home or do I stay here, but Covid was so bad at home and at the beginning, they were saying don’t go to airports, airports is where you’ll get Covid. So, I made the decision to stay,” she says.
“If I leave, I’m stuck in America. It would be so hard to study with the time difference, and having a long-distance relationship with a fifteen hour time difference, what a joke, how would that even work out.
“I FaceTime everyone at home all the time, but obviously it’s not the same as hugging your Mum.”
When the USA’s Covid-19 situation worsened, Emily and her family were grateful she stayed in Australia.
“Even if you just look at the numbers, like from the beginning America just had so many cases,” says Emily.
In contrast, Lauren has been alarmed at how Australia has responded to the pandemic compared with other countries.
“There is sometimes 40,000 plus cases a day in the UK, and we are open, and Australia shuts down over three cases. Australia is a year behind the rest of the world, and it is very hard to watch,” she says.
Despite the challenges she has faced, Lauren encourages other Australian’s wanting to travel not to be afraid.
“You’ve been locked up long enough, and it’s your human right to travel. As long as you are prepared for the risk, everyone deserves to move as they wish,” she says.
If you are wanting to travel abroad soon, below are the latest rules and advice for Australians:
– Full vaccinated Australians are now able to depart Australia without applying for an exemption.
– Destinations are broken down into four ‘travel advice’ levels. Be sure to check which level your destination is deemed before departing.
– You should aim to have a comfortable amount of savings; flight cancelations could still be happening for quite some time.
– Visit the Smartraveller website regularly to check for developments.
– Be patient; you will need to take tests, provide paperwork, and be prepared to quarantine for any travel in the near future.