There were tears of joy and relief – and some of sadness – at Sydney Airport on Monday as the first flights left Australia.
The country’s international borders had reopened after 582 days of Covid-19 restrictions and travellers were eager to reunite with loved ones overseas following months of painful separation and missed milestones.
Emotions were running high as Carolyn Chambers and her five-year-old son Ephraim prepared to check-in for the 5.55pm QF1 – the first plane to London.
“It’s a bit of both happy and sad,” she said of their trip to her hometown of Pontefract, West Yorkshire.
“I’m expecting everyone to be very emotional after not being able to do normal family events. My parents haven’t seen their grandchild in more than two years.”
Mrs Chambers lives with her British husband on the NSW Central Coast and couldn’t be in the UK in person for her sister’s wedding or her father’s cancer diagnosis.
She said daily FaceTime calls couldn’t compare to being able to hug her mum.
Ephraim, who was given a teddy bear dressed as a UK police officer at the check-in desk, was excited about playing with his cousins and his grandparents.
Fully vaccinated Australians, permanent residents and their families can now come and go without having to apply for permission to leave the country.
With quarantine scrapped in NSW and Victoria, Mrs Chambers said it was a “massive relief” not to have to navigate a fortnight in a hotel room with a young child.
Elle Robertson was embraced by her mother and father before she stepped through the departure gates for the first time in 10 months.
The 24-year-old fashion management student will be swapping her days on the tractor with her dad on the family farm for a shared flat with friends and nights out in London.
Ms Robertson, who has been studying her masters online from Taralga, in the NSW southern tablelands, said she had been rejected four times for an exemption to leave Australia to return to the UK.
“I’ve only been there for nine months out of two years. Online (classes) have been tough. It’s been from 6pm to 3am. Then dad wakes me up at 6am every morning to go out and do some farm work,” she said.
“So when ScoMo announced it was time to go, I was like, ‘Get me out of here’.”
Her mother Fiona Robertson said she and her husband Bruce were “teary, but excited” about their daughter’s big move back overseas.
“This is what we brought them up to be, independent young people. It’s just so far away,” she said.
“I can’t just pop over for a cup of tea. But, you know, she’ll be fine.”
Qantas chief executive officer Alan Joyce said some of the stories of people being kept apart by the border closures were heartbreaking.
He compared the emotional day to the famous scenes from Love Actually in which overjoyed Londoners step into each other’s arms at the Heathrow Airport arrivals terminal.
“I’m feeling relieved and excited at the same time – relieved that we’re getting all of our people back to work, relieved that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he told NCA NewsWire at Sydney Airport.
“And excited that we’re seeing all of our passengers being able to catch up with loved ones and friends.”