While many Australians believe that those people living overseas should have taken the government’s advice and packed up their entire lives and headed back home in March 2020, there seems to be a fundamental lack of understanding that it wasn’t that easy with numerous variables involved — especially the fact that no one was really aware of just how bad the COVID pandemic was about to become and how it would bring economies around the world to their knees.
I was one of the lucky ones who made it back in July before the caps on flights were imposed.
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But since then, there have been horrific tales of Australians overseas who are ending up homeless and broke after having spent exorbitant amounts of money to get on a flight, only for the flight to be canceled over and over again.
The toll of packing up one’s whole life and arriving at the airport with bags in tow only to be told at the last minute that you have been bumped from the flight has caused many stranded Aussies an immense amount of mental anguish.
Christina Mastroianni is one such person whose numerous attempts to get home have left her distraught and devastated — so much, that she has written a letter to Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison and created a change.org campaign to help others like herself get back home.
So far, the petition has already garnered 29,329 signatures, with the number of people throwing their support behind her cause rapidly increasing. (To learn more about her story and sign the petition, click HERE)
Here is her letter in its entirety to Australia’s PM:
Dear Mr. Scott Morrison,
I should be boarding my Qatar flight from JFK-Sydney today, but like 40,000 other stranded Australians, I was bumped off my flight due to critically low flight caps. This is my SEVENTH ‘bump’ since July. Each bump has caused me to become more and more depressed, to the point that I’ve now hit rock bottom. It is not only mental depression, but I can feel it physically, experiencing blurred vision, dizziness, and body shake. You advised Australians overseas to ‘find a safe place to stay’, however, 11 months in and my safe place is no longer safe. I have lived outside of the US since 2009, I am a stranger to the US. I don’t have friends here or even a bank account. I find myself anxiously awaiting a flight to Australia in a toxic living situation, without a job and my relationship with my Australian partner has fallen apart due to my inability to return to Australia. I am heartbroken, I am broken. I have nothing to live for in my current situation. The government is forcing me to live a life I don’t want to live due to the inhumane flight caps. I have a job lined up in Sydney that I will lose if I can’t get to Australia. My life is in Australia, however, I am not able to return to Australia.
With the new restrictions, it seems there is no end in sight for the plight of Aussies stranded abroad. Feeling so hopeless makes me feel desperate and like I have nothing to live for. I find myself ‘fantasizing’ about committing suicide. Like it would be easier to end everything than to continue in this limbo where the government is unfairly deciding the outcome of my life. People with money who can afford Business Class flights are deemed more important than me. Celebrities and sports stars are allowed to enter over stranded Aussies. Families that have never before stepped foot in Australia are allowed to immigrate to Australia, while I sit stranded outside of Australia. Some people have been granted exemptions to leave Australia during the pandemic, and they’ve managed to return before me. The lack of empathy for Australian citizens overseas leads me to believe there is no end in sight to the cruelty and injustice we’ve experienced, and I just can’t bear the thought of this continuing. And I know I’m not the only one having these thoughts of suicide. How many Australians overseas have to kill themselves before things change to bring desperate Australians home?
Halving the already low flight caps has caused absolute mayhem and the flight situation is out of control. Everyone is getting bumped and airlines are saying there are no flights available until May or June 2021. Travel agents are offering economy fights for $7,500. You say you’re helping by organizing flights to bring stranded Aussies home, but the exorbitant cost of repatriation flights doesn’t help people who have not been able to work or receive assistance throughout the pandemic. People are now paying for quarantine, there’s no reason hotel quarantine can’t be expanded so that citizens can board the commercial flights they book. Due to being stranded and having to pay for inflated flights and quarantine, some people are returning to Australia with nothing, as though starting over, how is that fair or healthy for the economy? You may have the vote of selfish Australians in Australia relatively unaffected by the pandemic, but you’re losing the vote of stranded Aussies and our family and friends that see our struggle.
My flight to Sydney with Qatar was booked in June, but before the pandemic hit, I intended to return to Australia in late March 2020. I was en route to Australia and the world was shutting down around me. My jobs in Australia were canceled so I was faced with the decision to return to Australia in a pandemic where I’m not guaranteed accommodation or employment, or return to my family in the US where I would at least have a roof over my head. I was not willing to become a liability to my mates in Australia, so I returned to the US for a safe place to ‘wait this out’. Can you imagine how scary it is to make decisions in a pandemic when there is no certainty? Quarantine and Jobseeker had not yet been announced when I made the decision to return to my family in the US. Would you have preferred that I returned to Australia in March and sat enjoying Jobseeker like the rest of Australia? I have not received a penny of taxpayer dollars or government assistance throughout this pandemic, and I’m not asking for any assistance, other than the ability to get on my Qatar flight to Australia.
I am a dual US/Australian citizen but I love Australia and I have chosen it as my country to live permanently. When Australia was burning from the bushfires in early 2020, I posted to my social media channels raising awareness to various charities for people to donate and I organized a fundraiser for people to donate to bushfire relief. When I was due to return to Australia late March, the first thing I wanted to do was travel to bushfire areas and assist with bushfire relief efforts. Throughout the pandemic, I have been volunteering at the local church food pantry distributing and delivering food to people in need. I’ve organized and managed a petition to encourage the government to #removethecap and assist in the plight of Australians stranded around the world, so far it has received over 28,000 signatures and counting. I am a good, charitable person and I don’t understand why I am being punished and treated like I don’t matter. Why are Australians IN Australia more important than Australians overseas? We’re all citizens of Australia, whether we were born in the country or if we adopted the country, whether we’re in or out of the country. Mine is a case of ‘wrong place at the wrong time’ and had the world shut down a week later, I would have been in Australia throughout the pandemic. Instead, I’m fighting for my right to return to Australia and I might lose my life to the fight due to the severe depression I experience daily.
We need the flight caps raised. We need hope to return to Australia. Without hope, there’s nothing to look forward to and the Australian government will have blood on their hands. The blood of stranded Australians that took their lives because they had no hope of ever returning to Australia because of the government imposed flight caps. Please consider the lives you’re ruining by continuing with the flight caps. You are jeopardizing the lives of vulnerable Australians overseas instead of implementing a system that is safe and effective for all Australian citizens.
Stranded Aussies need change.
Unfortunately, her letter fell on deaf ears.
“I can’t believe all I got was an auto-reply from ScoMo to my email, so heartless,” she tells Kindness and Hope.
Adding: “I likely would have gotten on my flight February 2nd because I got DFAT and Qatar Customer Service involved, but ultimately I was canceled for the 7th time because he halved the caps for 1 month.”
But for those still struggling to get home, there is hope!
Ann-Catherine Jones, a front-line travel advisor for 24 years and who has run a high-end luxury travel service with her team of eight, relays her organization is now focusing on getting Australians home during the COVID era.
“We are switching our decades of experience into repatriating our citizens to help stranded Australians get back,” she tells Kindness and Hope. “All of us are ‘airfare experts’ and have worked assisting travelers through the many cataclysmic events that have happened over the past two decades. A couple of examples are that we’ve helped travelers navigate September 11 and the Icelandic Ash Cloud, and gotten people home from Thailand and Sri Lanka after the Boxing Day Tsunami. So we really are well experienced in Crisis Travel Management. We have connections with all the airlines flying into Australia, and also offer guidance for those with special circumstances, getting them in touch with their local MPs and the like to help facilitate returns.”
“Our industry is all about the human connection (it’s one of the reasons using a travel advisor is on the increase again!) and we have an amazing network that is helping us,” she says. W”e know people in airlines, we have made friends with our local MPs to get the latest updates and we upskill constantly. Our little black books are getting a workout at the moment!
“This is not to say that things don’t go wrong. Yes, we have passengers bumped from canceled flights, but we will hold your hand through it and work through all the options and solutions, and travelers will never be left without some line of communication. We also have a 24-hour support team that kicks in once our office has closed for the day.”
Watch her interview on ABC News Breakfast below:
If you are experiencing difficulties returning home, please reach out to Jones & Turner Travel Associates by phoning 1800 236 667 or visit their website by clicking HERE.