International airline Emirates has abruptly suspended its flights to Australia’s east coast, leaving it more difficult for Australians overseas to make it home.
The airline announced the decision on Friday evening on its website, citing “operational reasons”.
In a tweet to a disgruntled customer, the Emirates customer service account wrote on Saturday: “Our flights to Australia are closed due to government’s mandate of reduced capacity. As much as we’d like to fly you and open more seats, we’re bounded to government and travel restrictions.”
Angry expat Australians largely placed the blame on Australia’s governments in social media posts, repeating claims the government has not done enough to help them get home.
The Emirates decision comes after Australia’s move to slash the cap on international arrivals until February 15, in the wake of a virus leak in hotel quarantine in Queensland.
NSW, Queensland and Western Australia have halved their intake.
The airline’s last journeys from Dubai to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane will fly on Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, respectively.
Ticket-holders with later dates will not be able to fly, with Emirates advising they contact their travel agent or the Emirates contact centre to re-book.
Law and film student and writer Debbie Zhou had a ticket to fly from Dublin to her home town of Sydney with Emirates on Friday.
Instead, she now thinks she’ll be stuck in Ireland – currently subject to a strict lockdown – until at least March.
Ms Zhou, 24, has been in Ireland since January on a one-year exchange to Trinity College, where she has mostly attended classes remotely due to the pandemic.
As she endured a year of repeated lockdowns and rising cases in Ireland, Ms Zhou has been anxiously watching social media groups of Australians trying to get home over the past year, as the end of her exchange loomed.
Ms Zhou only booked her flight a few weeks ago, as she had read about others having their flights cancelled when they booked in advance.
As she packed her bags this week, she worried her flight might be cancelled.
“But of course, when you’re packing and all of that, you do inevitably feel like there might be a bit of hope,” she told AAP.
Ms Zhou spent thousands of dollars on a business class ticket to avoid a last-minute cancellation.
But when she logged on to social media on Friday, she saw a tweet from a reporter about Emirates’ decision and realised she had just missed the cut-off.
Most people in the social media groups she’s in are re-booking for March, she said.
While she will be able to stay in her homestay if she has to wait months, the uncertainty is difficult to deal with.
“Even if it was in March and I knew exactly what date I was flying, I think a lot of people would be really happy with that,” she said.
“It’s constantly not knowing and mentally preparing yourself to pack and do everything to get on the flight and knowing in the back of your head that it could be cancelled at any moment.
“It’s just totally out of my control.”
Emirates will still fly to Perth twice a week.
Meanwhile, the federal government says the absence of Emirates from the east coast will not affect the availability of flights to stranded Australians.
Acting Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham has announced 20 more chartered repatriation flights, saying the passenger numbers that previously went to Emirates under the nation’s cap would simply be re-allocated to other airlines.