COVID-19 has made global travel complicated and difficult. How do you help an employee get home when so many borders are closed?
Across the globe, countries are closing their borders to stop the spread of COVID-19. In March, Australia quickly changed from being only closed to some countries, to completely shutting down access to and from the country.
At time of writing, the Prime Minister has banned all overseas travel for most Australian citizens and anyone arriving who isn’t a citizen, permanent resident or immediate family member will not be allowed into the country.
These rapid changes are not unique to Australia. The fast changes on who can or cannot leave and enter different countries has left some people stuck on the opposite side of the world from their home, family and workplace.
HRM spoke to Merran Wiggins from TravelManager about how to approach getting an employee home from overseas.
Don’t bother with ticket sites
Most recently Newcastle’s John Hunter Hospital bought on Wiggins to retrieve one of their doctors from Cambodia.
When trying to get home on his own the doctor sunk hundreds of dollars purchasing tickets from online ticket sites instead of booking through the airline or a travel agency.
“As countries are cancelling their flights, many of these websites aren’t updating correctly, so people are buying tickets for flights that don’t exist.
“You’re just throwing your money away. And in many cases you’re not going to get it back.”
Wiggins advises skipping the ticket sites all together and going straight to the source.
“When you use a travel agent, they can check the global distribution lists. They know what flights are actually happening. Same as if you checked the airline’s website.
“If you’re trying to book tickets, go directly to the airline site or a travel agent who has access to the proper airline distributions.”
As for the ticket price, you may need to accept paying more.
Wiggins believes this isn’t because airlines are marking up the price, but because everyone is trying to buy tickets last minute.
“If you’re trying to get on a plane tomorrow, there might only be a premium economy or business class left. So if you want to get on that flight, you’ll have to pay for it.”
Wiggins also says that tickets seem to cost more than expected, because people are buying one-way tickets.
“If you’re not changing an existing ticket then you will need to wear the additional cost,” she says.
The situation is desperate enough that there are reports of chartered flights being organised. One organised from Peru to Sydney, by a travel company with government assistance, apparently cost $5160 for an economy ticket. Some politicians have called on the government to intervene, it’s like this will be a continually evolving situation.
All arrivals to Australia now need to quarantine for 14 days within designated facilities. In most cases this is a hotel.
“A lot of people don’t consider what is going to happen at the other end,” says Wiggins.
Countries which travellers travel through on the journey back to Australia might have mandatory quarantine, so they may have to wait another two weeks in that country before getting on a plane. If someone is trying to navigate typical airline flights, chances are this could happen several times before they get the plane home.
Once they’ve returned to Australia, an employee in quarantine could possibly be sent a laptop or other items they need to work. However, there are no explicit guidelines on what or if people in quarantine can receive anything. HRM contacted the Department of Home Affairs and it seems the advice currently being given on whether this is possible is not clear.
If you do want to courier anything to your employee in quarantine, you would need to contact the relevant government officials and the hotel they’re being kept at. Be warned that the information changes caused by the pandemic are rapid enough that people at the hotel might be working on different knowledge than you. You might have permission to deliver a laptop from someone higher up of which the people on the ground might not be aware.
It doesn’t always work out
Wiggins says there comes a point when you have to accept they’re not getting back tomorrow or maybe even next week. In the case of her client in Cambodia, she says she had to ask him to just stay put for now.
“When there are just no flights left, they just have to bunker down to keep themselves as safe as possible. Tell them to follow all the restrictions or laws where they, check smart traveller, stay updated.
“Most importantly let them know they haven’t been forgotten about.”
Disclosure: Merran was the travel manager for the writer’s previous employer.
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