Three special flights from the Philippines landed in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane on Sunday morning, repatriating stranded Australian travellers.
“That was a mammoth effort. That required 12 sweeper flights from around the Philippines, bringing people from places like Cebu, Davao, other parts of Mindanao to Manila to be able to board those flights through a very very stressful, high-pressure lockdown environment,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne said.
“We’re glad to help people get back home. Thanks to all involved including (the Philippine) government and Philippine Airlines,” the Australian Embassy stated on its Facebook Page.
“We know there’s more work to do. We’re trying to arrange further flights in the next week to get more people home.”
Some of the passengers have noticed that social distancing was not observed at the NAIA Airport and even inside the plane where passengers were seated together.
The returning Australian citizens and permanent residents are currently on mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine due to COVID-19.
In Melbourne, the 363 passengers that have returned from the Philippines are staying at the 4.5 star Crowne Plaza Hotel Melbourne, which includes three meals a day, compliments of the Victorian State Government.
Meals are left outside their room and the corridors are guarded by security. Guests receive meals based on their preferences. Those with special dietary requirements are able to order alternatives through Uber Eats.
Only Woolworths delivery is said to be available to guests staying at the hotels.
Guests are also able to request to be escorted by a DHHS officer for 15 minutes of fresh air. Guests report to be happy to finally be back in Australia, and are impressed with the hotel services provided in Australia.
A successful repatriation
It was the Australian Embassy in Manila that coordinated the successful repatriation of returning travellers from Manila to Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
However, the special flights came about only after it was suggested and initiated by Ms. Gigi Kalong, managing director of Philippine Tours based in Melbourne.
“We (Philippine Tours) were getting numerous inquiries from our customers whose return flights were affected by the stoppage of flights from Manila to Australia. But since there were no available flights, we had to do something to help our returning passengers,” Kalong said in a telephone interview with The Philippine Times.
According to Kalong, she sought the assistance of other travel agents – My Travel Solutions, Deer Park Travel and Western Travel – to provide their list of over 120 affected passengers. She then communicated with Ambassador Steven Robinson for a possible Manila-Melbourne flight to help repatriate returning passengers.
Ambassador Robinson negotiated with Philippine Airlines (PAL) with the latter agreeing to open a flight to Melbourne. Later, PAL also opened flights bound for Sydney and Brisbane.
The Australian Embassy took the arduous task of coordinating with the Philippine government, Department of Tourism of various regions, which arranged sweeper flights with PAL from 12 locations including Davao and Cebu to Manila.
Since the Philippines is in lockdown, passengers were required to get a barangay clearance, certification from the local health authority that the traveller in not COVID-19 positive, letter from the Philippine Department of Tourism, confirmed flight booking, and valid visa.
Some missed out
Some took to social media to air their grievances when they registered for the flight and still missed out or have not been contacted back.
Some were not impressed by the one-way price of $1545 AUD from eg. Davao-Manila-Melbourne.
Melbourne residents Jess and Nenita Otares who are currently in Manila were some of those who registered but still missed out on the Manila-Melbourne flight.
“Hindi ko nga maintindihan kung paano pinili nila yong sumakay, nakapag-register naman kami on the first day of registration. (I don’t really understand how they chose those who were on the flight when we were able to register on the first day of registration),” Jess Otares said.
“We were patient(ly) waiting for their instructions as per email, (they) assured us of enough seats for everyone… pero, look what happened,” Nenita Otares added.
Nenita is hopeful that they will be able to be on the next flight.
“According to FB page Robinson said, they are organising another flights this week and they will inform those who missed out,” Nenita said.
Featured image: Australia in The Philippines
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