An unvaccinated couple from Ireland has been deen detained by the Australian Border Force and are to be deported from the country because they failed to obtain a COVID-19 vaccination exemption before boarding their 19-hour flight from Ireland to Perth.
Although Australia has relaxed many of its pandemic-era travel restrictions in recent weeks including the need for a pre-departure test, unvaccinated visitors must still apply for a special exemption certificate. Details are clearly explained on the Department of Home Affairs website.
But Anne and Audie Ryan-Murphy say they consulted a travel agent before booking their flights and thought they had complied with all the rules before setting off for the airport.
The couple had completed a Digital Passenger Declaration which allows travellers to declare their unvaccinated status and were even prepared to undergo a mandatory seven-day hotel quarantine on their arrival in Western Australia.
What they didn’t realise, however, was that unvaccinated travellers are subject to strict number caps and permission has to be granted by the Border Force before attempting to travel.
The Department of Home Affairs warns that applying for an exemption just on the basis that you are unvaccinated is unlikely to be successful. Instead, applicants must provide “clear and specific evidence” they meet a narrow list of exemption categories.
Exemption reasons include travel for compassionate and compelling reasons. The couple were travelling to Australia to their son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
They also planned to provide assistance as their pregnant daughter-in-law prepares to give birth to their second grandchild.
While its open to debate as to whether they would have been successful in applying for a vaccination travel exemption, they should never have been allowed to board their flight in the first place.
Like many countries, Australia requires airlines to act as gatekeepers, ensuring that visa requirements are checked before allowing a passenger to board. Not only will the airline involved be required to pay for the couple to fly back to Ireland but it could also be hit with a big fine.
The couple, who were whisked straight from the airport to a quarantine hotel in central Perth, say they feel like they “slipped through the net”. They won’t be allowed to see their family before being deported.
Airlines have complained about trying to enforce the myriad of pandemic-related travel rules that can quickly change with little or no notice. Ground agents are expected to meticulously scrutinise paperwork against these ever-changing rules to prevent similar issues.
Attempts at pre-verifying pandemic paperwork have had limited success and many in the travel industry are hoping that more and more countries drop burdensome COVID-era restrictions altogether.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.