#GettingThemHome: Australian Embassy flies stranded Aussies and Kiwis home

Nepal Airlines carrying residents/citizens of Australia and New Zealand

It’s 6:15 p.m. – I imagine Hon. Peter Budd, Australian Ambassador to Nepal is breathing a sigh of relief. I don’t know where he is at the moment, but I am assuming he is watching a Nepal Airlines wide-bodied jet make its way out of Kathmandu, Nepal – on it 252 stranded Australians and New Zealanders. I also wonder if he was able to fly his family out.

In a commendable effort, the Australian Embassy in Nepal did what its core purpose is – assist citizens/residents travelling or living in the host country. The task, we assume was no walk in the park – it meant registering its citizens, making a flight available, seeking permission from the host country’s foreign ministry, collecting them from all parts of Nepal, and so many other details.

Here, we share with you a timeline of the events:

20th March, 2020: Nepal’s PM Oli in a televised address, announces a ban on international flights between 22-31 March, 2020. The flight ban is to be extended until 15th April in the next week.

23rdMarch, 2020: Nepal government announces a nationwide lockdown effective from 24th March, 2020, initially for a week, later extended for another week until 7th April, 2020.

24th March, 2020: Australian Embassy reaches out to its residents/citizens – requests them to register themselves with the Embassy.

25th March, 2020: Gets aboard Nepal government’s plans to bring stranded residents home – meanwhile, German and American Embassies are also working their way to send their citizens home.

26th March, 2020: Secures approvals from Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation for a flight of 14 Australians from Lukla to Kathmandu.

27th March, 2020: The stranded passengers from Lukla arrive in Kathmandu.

Image: Australian Embassy Facebook
Image: Australian Embassy Facebook

27th March, 2020: Amidst all the negotiations, the embassy is able to secure a chartered international flight back home to Sydney. On Friday evening, it announced the plane, a Qatar Airways flight would take the stranded Australians home to Sydney via Doha on Monday, the 30th of March, 2020.

The tickets were priced at USD 2295 – a tough choice for the people of Australia – to stay back in a foreign nation with no uncertainty about the lockdown and the added worry of a health crisis, or to head home (not to forget the 14 day compulsory quarantine back at home).

28th March, 2020: The Australian Embassy informs negotiations are underway with Nepal Airlines. “The service will be a direct Kathmandu to Sydney flight. It will depart Wednesday 1 April, in the evening. Costs will be USD1800 for economy seating and will include a USD2300 option for business class travel”, the Embassy informs.

29th, 30th, 31st March, 2020: Embassy initiates bookings, extends invitations to stranded New Zealanders too. Buses are made available from Thamel to the Embassy, and return.

Image: Australian Embassy Facebook

31st March, 2020: Bus routes are made available for those making their way to the Embassy. The airport is closed and will not permit private vehicles.

1st April, 2020: Early morning, Ambassador Budd shares images of buses ready for the big day.

1st April, 2020: Ambassador Budd shares an image of the crew flying with Nepal Airline’s widebodied jet to Brisbane.

1st April, 2020: The aircraft departs – 300 plus Aussies and Kiwis are on their way home.