Caps on international flights leave hundreds of Australians stranded in Canada
'There's an immense amount of frustration, it's definitely a feeling of being abandoned,' says Greg King
After multiple cancelled flights, Georgia and Greg King's dogs will be flying from Canada to their home in Australia before them.
That's because strict pandemic-era rules on international arrivals have limited the number of people who can fly into the country — including citizens — leaving 38,200 Australians abroad, around 640 of whom are in Canada, according to Australia's government.
Only a few hundred people are allowed to fly into each international airport in Australia each week, to avoid overwhelming hotels being used for monitored quarantines.
Many airlines, like Air Canada, have consequently cancelled flights to the country over the coming months.
The Kings came to Canada on a working visa in mid-October last year. They had initially planned to return in May, but that flight was cancelled at the end of March.
Attempts to book flights since have been unsuccessful. They were able to schedule their two dogs on a repatriation flight intended to rescue pets stuck abroad due to strict travel restrictions on animals, but have yet to find seats for themselves.
"There's a charter flight that's been put together for all the stranded animals in Canada, they're trying to get back to Australia. So fortunately we've been able to get our two dogs on that flight," said Greg King.
"We never thought the issue would be struggling to get ourselves out ... unfortunately it's the case we find ourselves facing now, where they're going to be gone Nov. 5 and we're going to be here stranded trying to find a way home for ourselves."
Greg King said they've been in touch with the Australian government, the consulate in Vancouver, and even the U.S. embassy — to see if they could drive to Los Angeles and fly from there — with no luck.
The recently-married couple are still working at a retail store in Banff, but had been hoping to return to Australia to their careers and to start a family.
"We are trying to make the most of it, but there's always that gnawing anxiety in our heads, when can we get back," said Georgia King.
Banff has long been a popular spot for Australians on working holiday, due to their eligibility through the International Experience Canada work permit program.
Jessie Bellamy and her partner also travelled from Australia to Banff to work. They had hoped to apply for permanent residency, but were denied as their jobs are in hospitality — an uncertain industry given the pandemic.
Their work visas are about to expire, but their flight home via Air Canada on Oct. 26 was pushed back, and pushed back again, before being cancelled entirely.
"I'm very frustrated and confused," she said.
Both Bellamy and the Kings say Air Canada will only offer them a credit for their flights, not a refund. And with no Air Canada flights scheduled to Australia for months, they're unlikely to be using the same airline again. CBC News has reached out to Air Canada for comment, but has yet to receive a response.
"It will be cutting into our savings and we don't know when we're going to be able to get home," said Bellamy.
No direct flights
There are no direct flights home from Canada to Australia right now, according to the Australian High Commission of Canada's website. There are flights through the U.S., or via the Middle East, but flying through connecting countries also poses a risk of last minute changes or cancellations due to the travel caps.
"There's an immense amount of frustration, it's definitely a feeling of being abandoned," said Greg King.
A spokesperson for Australia's department of foreign affairs said consular officials are doing all they can to help those abroad impacted by the pandemic.
"We acknowledge that the caps on international arrivals are frustrating for Australians seeking to return. The caps are critical to the integrity of Australia's quarantine system and the safety of the Australian community," the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
The Australian government is urging those stuck abroad to register with their nearest embassy or high commission, to help the government better understand how many people are trying to return home. It also said it's expanding its financial assistance program, to help Australians shelter abroad or purchase flights.
With files from Helen Pike