From Australia to the UK: Flying Home During COVID-19
Our story begins with May, a fourth year Marketing Management student at York St John University. In her third year, she flew from the UK to Australia to undertake a work placement in the marketing and PR industry. However, little did she know that her time in Australia would be drawn to an unfortunate halt due to the coronavirus.
We sat down with May to discuss her experiences living in Australia throughout the beginnings of the pandemic – including her feelings being so far from home, what the airport experience was like and how her flight out from Hong Kong was the last one before the country went into total shutdown. May also shares her more general advice for students who are considering working abroad.
The beginning of the end
“It didn’t really feel real, and then within a week it hit” May told us, as she found that people in Australia initially appeared to be quite oblivious to the coronavirus outbreak. She remarked that once travellers and tourists began to leave the country was when panic began to ensue.
May was fortunate enough to be coming to the end of her placement when she made the decision to return to the UK. “If you decide to stay in Australia we can help you, but we highly advise you to get on the next flight out of here” was the advice given to her by her supervisor, so she made her decision to leave with relative ease. However, it wasn’t as straightforward for all placement students. May noted that several Americans in her workplace were worried that they would not be able to get a flight home in time due to the the US’s impending national lockdown.
May had four days between the end of her placement and her flight home, of which she said were the longest four days of her life. She was originally planning to travel to Bali to work for a few months starting in April, but unfortunately had to cancel that.
On the day of her flight, May travelled to the airport via taxi and said that the process felt relatively normal. However, one moment that resonated with her were the amount of families saying goodbye to each other outside the airport. This was because non-travellers were forbidden from entering the airport, a sight that made her feel quite uneasy.
The airport experience
The airport was quiet, with only a few gates open and queues were virtually non-existent. Upon arriving in Australia, May had found security to be very strict, but this time it was minimal – perhaps they were just trying to get people out of the country as quickly as possible. When she arrived at the terminal, every shop had closed apart from a chemist and a McDonalds. There were two backpackers in the lounge, who both appeared to be quite distressed. They had been travelling around south-east Asia and unfortunately had to cancel their travels. They flew from Thailand to Perth, and then Perth to Sydney at incredibly short notice just to be able to get back to the UK before lockdown.
Once May was on the plane, she said she could have counted the number of passengers on one hand. However, arriving in Hong Kong was a completely different story. “You could have licked the floor it was so clean in there” May joked, although at the time she was feeling much more stressed trying to get through the airport. “The whole place smelt of bleach and there was nothing open, apart from maybe two or three toilets”. Each passenger had to wear a mask and have their temperature checked, and you could tell the airport staff did not want to be anywhere near you – they just wanted you gone.
As well as this, May did not realise initially that her flight was the last flight out of Hong Kong. She remarked “I had sent a photo of the bulletin board to my mum and she noticed that my flight was the very last one on there. My mum and dad were watching the news, and the headline was Hong Kong airport will close at 12 o’clock exactly”. What time was May’s flight? 12:20. Her parents only told her this once she was home, but at the time they were beginning to get incredibly nervous.
Reflections and future travel advice
Overall, May’s experience travelling at this time has not put her off travelling in the future. When international travel begins to open up again, May would say “don’t let COVID stop you from going on holiday – most places are well-organised with the correct safety measures in place”. She would also love to eventually go back to Australia and tick off everything on her bucket list that she never got the chance to do.
May’s best advice for future students thinking about working abroad is not to worry too much about accommodation. One thing she, and others that she lived with, wished they had done was travelled around various accommodations throughout their stay in order to better experience what Australia had to offer.
Written by Joe Corfield