Coronavirus: ‘Our flights to Ireland were cancelled and we’re still stranded in China’
Irish tourists and emigrants share their experiences of trying to fly home to Ireland
Irish holidaymakers and emigrants are trying to get back to Ireland this week as the number of Covid-19 cases rises. Photograph: iStock
As the numbers diagnosed with coronavirus around the world continues to rise, countries are closing their borders. Flights have been cancelled and whole fleets grounded. Organisations supporting Irish citizens living abroad are advising those on temporary visas or with insecure jobs to consider flying home immediately.
We asked holidaymakers and emigrants who were trying to get back to Ireland about their experiences this week. Here is a selection of the responses we received.
Peter Abrahams, Bolivia: ‘If all hostels and hotels close, we’d be out on the streets’
We’re a group of four Irish nationals stuck in Sucre in Bolivia. We tried to get out before the ban on flights in and out of the country came into force, but all the flights filled up very quickly - a British friend tried to leave via Sucre airport but was turned away due to lack of flight options from Santa Cruz (an international airport in Bolivia). There are no inter-city bus services here in Bolivia due to the lockdown.
At present we are able to go out from our hostel between 5am and 5pm, but we are increasingly worried the restrictions will tighten. If Bolivia announces that all hostels and hotels must close, we’d be out on the streets. One of our group has food poisoning at the moment which would make this even more difficult. We’re in contact with the Irish Embassy and Consulate and remain hopeful that evacuation flights can be organised to get us home.
Chai San, Philippines: ‘My partner and I were stranded on an island’
I’m a Filipino but a permanent resident in Ireland. I travelled to the Philippines with nine friends. It was their first time to visit Southeast Asia. The trip was great until Manila went into lockdown. Eight of them managed to fly back but my partner and I were stranded on an island together with thousands of other tourists as shown in the photo. It took five days for us to travel to Manila in order for us to take the international flight back to Dublin. We had to camp out of the airport in order to get slot. The entire holiday has been a nightmare.
Gillian Bryan, Yancheng, China: ‘Our flights to Ireland were cancelled and we’re still stranded in China’
Our return flights to Ireland were cancelled and after a month we’re still stranded in China waiting for our refund. Emirates have a clear coronavirus refund policy, but we unfortunately bought through a Chinese travel site and must apply through them. At this point we’ve almost lost track of their excuses for not refunding us. They have refused to reschedule our flights. We’ve spoken to four different representatives and they’ve blamed us, their app, Emirates and even their own co-workers. They claimed ignorance to the existence of policy on the Emirates website. After we sent screenshots of the policy, they told us Emirates lied on their website and they have “different policy” that they couldn’t elaborate on or share with us. They have refused me English service after promising it. They are offering us less than half of our refund for no good reason. To such a big company as theirs this is pocket change, but we’re out of work and stuck in China for the time being. The inconsistency between policy and action is frustrating and also really disheartening.
Stephen Treacy, Las Condes, Chile: ‘I fly on Saturday, as long as Chile does not suspend all flights’
On Wednesday, a state of catastrophe was called nationally in Chile by president Sebastian Pinera. I have been working and living in Chile for six months in the beautiful resort town of Pucon. IN the morning, I made contact with the Irish Embassy in Santiago. Very helpful and informative advice, which stated a lockdown is now in place. It is now essential to leave the country as soon as possible as movement will be severely restricted and a healthcare system which is already dated and under pressure has an impending doomsday. Booking flights is a nightmare, as prices have risen 1,000 per cent to get back to Europe. Some airlines are spontaneously cancelling flights, and flights are disappearing in front of your eyes as you search online.
Surrounded by panicking tourists, a calm collected mind is required. I found a flight from Santiago to Houston Texas, and then from Houston to Newark. The last leg will be Newark to Dublin. Traveling through US Borders and Customs can be painful at the best of times. I found a vehicle that could bring me the nine hour journey to Santiago in a packed Volkswagen, and arrived to the concrete jungle at 3am last night. My new Canadian friend who is driving the rental had to flee Argentina, as all hostels and tourist accommodation were kicking travellers onto the street with nowhere to go.
Argentina is five days ahead of Chile as the situation worsens there due to the large amount of cases of the virus, and things go from bad to extreme. Argentina has now halted all flights in and out, with all of the land borders and national parks closed. I am now in the smoggy Chilean metropolis which is eerily quiet, still edgy from the recent and ongoing protests against the government. Everything in the city is covered in thick graffiti which states in Spanish “death to police” and “death to the government”. I fly on Saturday, as long as Chile does not suspend all flights going out of the country, rumours are spreading, Ireland is still far away.
Rosie Kennedy, Exeter, UK: ‘Our house of six had to clear out quickly with no goodbyes’
I attend the University of Exeter, but my family live in Dublin. I have been keeping a close eye on the news, but was hoping to complete the term in Exeter as planned. All the schools in Ireland were shut down and it was starting to become obvious that the UK were going to have follow suit sooner or later. On Monday 16th we got an email from the university saying they were closing and all students should make plans to travel home. Then ensued a mass exodus of students. I had to book a flight from Bristol airport with Ryanair because Flybe in Exeter airport had gone under the week before.
Our house of six had to clear out quickly with no goodbyes to any of the people I had spent the last three years at university with. As I am a final year student, it has been confirmed that my degree will be finished online. Our graduation in July has been postponed indefinitely. Bristol airport was eerily empty with a handful of tense travellers. Upon arriving in Dublin after passport control I was greeted by HSE workers who gave me a pamphlet of information about Covid-19 and encouragement to self isolate for the next 14 days.
Antony Sherlock, Aberdeen, Scotland: ‘I hope everyone abroad gets home to their loved ones’
I am an SEBD (social, emotional and behavioural difficulties) teacher in Mintlaw Academy Aberdeenshire. I became increasingly concerned last Saturday when our league fixtures (Scottish Highland League) were called off. Then on Sunday my partner Fran told me that pubs and restaurants were closing at home. I was still working in school with 800 pupils and 100 staff, and the non-commital action of the government for preventative measures was quite simply surreal. Eventually when the announcement came on Wednesday that schools were closing, I booked my flight from Aberdeen to Dublin for this Sunday. I had previously booked to travel from Edinburgh on April 3rd with Ryanair and they were in contact by email to say I could change my flight with no change fee. I hope that everyone who is abroad gets home to their loved ones. Nothing else matters.
Kevin Ryan, France: ‘I might as well be in lockdown here as in Dublin’
I am in an Airbnb in the small medieval town of La Souterraine. Up to a few days ago the folk here seemed to have been oblivious to Covid-19. While the rest of us in Ireland were learning to use our elbows to greet each other and grab the last pack of loo roll from the top shelf of Dunne’s Stores, they were still handshaking and cheek kissing. President Macron addressed the nation and overnight everything has changed. There are no more handshakes or cheek kissing and there are police stopping people and asking for their papers.
The population seems to accept the return to the regulatory excesses of Vichy France with a disturbing degree of alacrity. I saw people go out of their way to present their papers to the police, with the simpering obsequiousness of a schoolboy anxious to impress the headmaster. I might as well be in lockdown here as in Dublin, so I stay, walking several times a day to the church to exercise religious freedom and light candles.
Kate Lenihan, France: ‘I’m thankful I was able to get back with family before flights were cut’
After having sat my legal exams (FE1s) I decided to take a few months off to travel... initially Asia had been the plan before things exploded there and I headed to the US instead, having saved up for years to finally get some travel in. It wasn’t too long before I got concerned messages from my parents regarding the health situation. I had to decide whether to go to France where my parents and brother live, or stay by myself or with older family. I flew to France last minute, and we now face general lockdown here, meaning I have no idea when I’ll be able to even fly to Ireland to see friends or my grandmother.
Having already lost a grandparent this year, and being completely cut off from those close to me outside my family for an indefinite period of time, it’s all been very surreal. But I’m very thankful that I was able to get back with family safe and before flights were cut.
- You can contact the Department of Foreign Affairs' Covid-19 phone line on +353 (0) 1 6131733, chat with their online team here and check for updates on their website or Twitter @dfatirl, @dfatravelwise