“To be living in one country that’s almost fully vaccinated and to be wanting to go back to a country that’s been one of the least affected by COVID of anywhere in the world, to have that prevented, is just enormously frustrating.
“It feels unfair but there are so many Australians around the world who just feel like we are being prevented from visiting home.”
Tamsyn Barker is Asia-Pacific managing director of global events agency FIRST. She described the flight cancellation as “devastating”.
Singapore Airlines spokesman Karl Schubert said the airline was doing all it could to accommodate disrupted customers but availability was limited by inbound caps.
“Until we receive advice from federal and state governments as to when international arrival caps will be removed, we continue to plan our operations to Australia accordingly,” he said.
“This recently resulted in a number of flights, which were scheduled late last year to operate from October 2021 onwards, to be cancelled. While sales on these flights had been closed for several months, some customers had purchased seats on these flights when they were first scheduled last year.
“We apologise for the inconvenience caused by these cancellations. While caps on international arrivals remain in place, we are unable to expand our passenger services to Australia at this stage.”
After being halved from about 6000 a week to 3000 from July 14, the cap on the number of arrivals has been further sliced in NSW this month from 1500 to 750 a week.
Morrison has signalled a transition to home quarantine for fully vaccinated returning Australians when the vaccination rate among the eligible population hits 80 per cent.
That mark is expected to be reached in December but while the four-phase national recovery plan includes the lifting of the cap on returning travellers at 80 per cent, states such as Western Australia and Queensland have indicated they may be slower to open up than others.
Airlines believe they have been caught between a rock and a hard place, forcing them to continue to cancel flights and offload passengers despite the increasing noises about international travel resuming.
Barry Abrams, executive director of the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia, told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age last week airlines had “no idea” what the reopening of internationals borders would mean in practice.
Singapore Airlines has also aired concerns about a lack of consultation from government, with its regional vice-president Louis Arul saying myriad questions needed to be answered including on vaccination of staff at airports, the colour-coding of flights (according to risk) from different countries and airport capacities.
Singapore Airlines has made more than 3600 passenger flights since last April, carrying about 70,000 people, most of them Australian.
It continues to fly with limited seating twice a day from Singapore to Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, three times a week to Adelaide and once a day to Sydney, having had to halve daily flights to NSW following last week’s tightening of the arrivals cap.
The airline has also carried more than 100,000 tonnes of cargo into Australia on 1126 passenger aircraft during the pandemic including 22 loads of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.