It was the morning of Tuesday 17th of March. I was on my way from Bristol – Southampton to meet an engineer who was installing a new streaming service for our brewery.
This had been a scheduled meeting with myself & my boss.
My boss rang me the day before to let me know he would be self isolating as the COVID-19 situation was escalating & he would be able to come.
He let me know if I don’t feel comfortable taking public transport to not worry about it. At this point I wasn’t to fussed. The trains were already fairly empty from people already being asked to work from home where possible.
Its a 3hour journey from Bristol-Southampton thank to track work & rail replacement buses.
Half way through my journey I received 2 texts almost simultaneously from my Brother Dan & bro in law Sammy. TheY informed me that the Australian government urged all Australians abroad to come home now or risk being stranded/ cut off. I instantly rang my boss to explain the situation. He told me if I have to go, to just go! Although I knew ultimately it was my decision I just wanted to get his thoughts on the situation. He said if I need to turn back around now & head to the airport tonight or tomorrow to just do it.
I knew I had to act fast. I decided to carry on with my journey & meet the engineer out of respect as we had already rescheduled once. I spent the other half of the trip searching for flights from UK – Australia. I wasn’t surprised to see the flights were fairly reasonable priced considering the situation. Well the situation changed quickly , I guess I wasn’t the only Australian who got a text from their family about the news. Within 15 minutes of me searching for flights they had gone up £200.
I decided to go for Royal Brunei airline as it was a great value flight & also one of the shortest journeys. Flight was £750 1 way, Heathrow to Melbourne.
Flight booked. Shit is real! I’m heading back to Australia only 7 weeks of me returning back to UK. It’s a bit surreal.
I called Chloe immediately, she was shocked but understood. I returned home & started packing, I had less than 24 hours to pack up my life & get to the airport. Chloe was heading to London the following morning so it worked out well, her parents also live next to Heathrow. We were not even out of Bristol when I received a call from a London number, who could this be I thought.
It was a flight attendant from Royal Brunei, he let me know that I would not be able to board my flight due to new restrictions placed in that country. I was shocked, this was my worst fear. Before booking with Royal Brunei I looked at travel restrictions, a lot of airports were restricting customers even transitioning through their airport.
Although I went into panic mode, I thanked him for calling me & letting me know as soon as he did. Considering the amount of interruption and uncertainty in the travel industry going on I didn’t expect this kind of service.
I looked at the time, it was 11:30pm in Australia, I needed to let my family know that I am not allowed to board.
After calling all immediate family members with no answer, I finally got an answer from Aunty Megs. She told me she would try my sister Jessy, the only one without a mobile. She was able to get through to her landline & connect me with Sam!
Due to the short notice of these unexpected travel plans I didn’t have the funds to just fork out on another long haul flight.
I had rang the Australian embassy in London for advice, they were shocked that Royal Brunei were doing these restrictions & had not heard about them yet. Their advice was to book another commercial airline.
I managed to get a flight from London- Switzerland – Singapore – Sydney – Albury. FOUR flights and over 48 hours later I arrived home.
When I was checking in at Heathrow, I was told only Europeans were currently allowed to transit through Switzerland since I had an Australian passport I would not be able to board. Because I was a UK resident I was allowed to board! Phew!
The layover in Zurich was short, the flight was full of uncertain Italians trying to get back to Europe as all flights to Italy were being cancelled.
I knew the restrictions to transit through Singapore were changing fast, at the point of me boarding, no passenger that had recently visited France, Italy, Germany & Spain were allowed to transit. Another sigh of relief thank goodness I had not been there recently. Unfortunately for quite a few Australians were refused boarding to Singapore.
The flight from Switzerland to Singapore is a 12 hour journey, I knew potentially their could be new laws by the time I land. I knew UK was next on the list of restrictions. Thankfully it had not been on the list of countries yet!
Due to the restrictions, the flight was fairly empty and I was able to have a sleep.
I left at a time where UK prime mister Boris was giving vague guidelines on the British pubs. He recommended people avoid pubs, although had not yet shut them. When he announced this customers were cancelling their bookings in droves & takings were instantly down. Job losses were imminent. My employer City Pub Group PLC, would obviously have to scale back the business in order to survive. I said I would be more than happy to go back to bar tending, cleaning , dish washing through this time of uncertainly.
I also told my boss I am happy to take unpaid leave until everything settles. Of which was granted. This meant my job was secure.
I’d received this in writing promptly from my boss. This was reassuring as I had worked really hard the last 4 years to get to the position I was in. I could breathe a sigh of relief & continue my journey to Australia.
The day I arrived, it was announces pubs were closing in the UK. This was huge, its like ripping the heart out of the UK. Their culture, their life, my job, my way of life. I understand why. It still doesn’t make it any more shocking to me. An industry I grew up in, shut down with a few hours warning..
I knew Australia was heading that way..
Total cost to get home $3600.
I’m glad I acted fast, as of today there is no possible way to get from UK – Australia.
Written on day #4 of quarantine.