Edinburgh couple slam 'profiteering' airlines after paying £5,000 to return from Australia during pandemic

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The couple are now back in the UK.

An Edinburgh couple have slammed ‘profiteering’ airline companies after they were forced to pay £5,000 to get home from Australia when the return flight of their holiday was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tina and Iain Little said they felt ‘helpless and abandoned’ after several flights were cancelled and they were not automatically booked onto future services.

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Tina, 61, and Iain, 70, both suffer from sarcoidosis, and were fast running out of medication in Australia. They were advised by the British Embassy to contact Telehealth but were unable to get a new supply.

Tina and Iain LittleTina and Iain Little
Tina and Iain Little | Other 3rd Party

The couple were due to fly back to Edinburgh from Perth on March 25, after a two-week holiday with friends.

But their Emirates flight was cancelled, and the airline did not contact the couple or book them on to a replacement flight.

Instead they found arranged a flight themselves, also with Emirates, at a cost of £1,500 for them both, more than they had paid to initially purchase their round-trip flights last year.

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But this flight, due to depart on March 24, was also cancelled when the UAE closed its borders.

Tina and Iain Little said they felt ‘helpless and abandoned’ after several flights were cancelled and they were not automatically booked onto future services.Tina and Iain Little said they felt ‘helpless and abandoned’ after several flights were cancelled and they were not automatically booked onto future services.
Tina and Iain Little said they felt ‘helpless and abandoned’ after several flights were cancelled and they were not automatically booked onto future services. | Other 3rd Party

Desperate to get home, the couple made the journey from their friends’ house to the airport despite knowing their flight had been cancelled, in the hope that they could manage to get on another one.

However they were turned away at the Emirates desk.

“At this point we were really panicking,” said Ms Little.

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The couple found a third return flight to Heathrow with Qatar Airways, but when they tried to pay the £3,000 to book it in a Flight Centre travel agent both their cards were declined, they believe perhaps because of the huge sum involved.

Thankfully their friends in Australia were able to loan them the money.

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“Without our friends’ help we would have been stuck there,” said Ms Little.

“We saw so many people in tears at the travel agent’s because they didn’t have the money to pay upfront, and they were stuck there.”

The couple eventually made it home on Sunday, at an additional cost of £4,700 for the two extra flights and car hire from Heathrow to Edinburgh.

They expect the money to be refunded, but are concerned about people in their situation who could not have paid £5,000 upfront.

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“The airlines are just trying to make money, they don’t have a duty of care,” said Mr Little.

“We contacted the British Embassy in Perth but they were no help, we just felt abandoned.

“The airlines just walked away. They’re not interested in you one iota.

“They take your money, they cancel your flight, and then it’s up to you.

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“It’s a very unusual situation but they could try a bit harder for their customers. Everyone wants to make a profit but this is going too far, it’s profiteering.”

A spokesperson for Emirates said: “The implementation of flight and travel restrictions by countries around the world to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, has been ongoing for the past weeks.

Many were put in place with very little notice.

Emirates understands that these are disruptive to travel, but as an airline operator, we have to follow government and regulatory directives.

On 23 March, the UAE government directed that all passengers flights to/from and transiting the UAE should be suspended for two weeks.

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This means all Emirates passenger flights have to be temporarily suspended from 25 March.

Since then, our teams have been working hard to inform customers and re-book as many as possible onto our remaining flights or others.

But with many airlines having already significantly reduced their flights, it simply is not possible to accommodate every traveller.”