THE moment Tiarne Gillespie stepped out of the lift at a Sydney quarantine hotel, she spotted her parents waiting outside the glass doors.
The Whitebridge resident struggled to hold back tears as she waited for police to do the necessary checks before she raced out to hug her mum for the first time in almost two years.
"I was bawling my eyes out, I was so emotional," she said.
Ms Gillespie and her partner, Sean Brocklesby, had been among the 26,000 Australians stranded overseas after COVID-19 prompted the Federal Government to impose passenger caps on international flights into the country.
They had been living and working in the UK for almost 18 months when the pandemic hit, but their work and rental commitments didn't end until July.
By then, airlines were charging "exorbitant" fees for fares, and they were "bumped" from the next available flights they could afford, along with thousands of other Australians scrambling to get home.
It took incessantly calling and emailing their airline to eventually negotiate a flight home on October 10.
"We didn't want to let ourselves believe it was happening until we were sitting on the plane after take off," Ms Gillespie said.
"We got our tickets, went through security. We had our temperature checked and we were given face masks and face shields to wear on the flight from London to Doha.
"We felt so lucky."
But while Ms Gillespie and Mr Brocklesby were elated to get back home, it was bittersweet, as the battle was far from over for more than 26,000 other Australians stranded overseas.
They said people were still getting their flights pushed back from October to December and even January.
"There was only about 30 people in our part of economy," Ms Gillespie said. "It was eerie to be on a plane with so few people. And it was kind of upsetting to see that flights like this had been going home every day while so many vulnerable Australians were still desperately trying to get home.
"We were a bit shocked there wasn't really much coverage of the Australians stuck overseas. I don't think a lot of people really understand how bad it is for so many people who have found themselves in this situation."
Mr Brocklesby said Australia had done an exceptional job of minimising the spread of the virus, but the flight caps had come at a cost. They had put thousands of Australians into physical, mental and financial stress.
He said many Australians stuck overseas felt abandoned by their country and their government.
"This will be a burden mentally and financially we will have to live with for many years to come," he said.
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