Qantas is to operate the first non-stop flight from Darwin to Heathrow as travellers struggle to return to the UK amid the coronavirus crisis.
Its flagship Sydney to London service usually flies via Singapore but, due to travel restrictions on international journeys, the airline has been forced to find an alternative route.
Australian carrier Qantas will temporarily operate its Sydney to London flight via the capital of Australia’s Northern Territory, where the Airbus A380 aircraft will stop off to refuel.
The flight to the UK’s largest airport from Darwin will take 16 hours and 45 minutes – believed to be the first non-stop flight between the two destinations.
The temporary route will only operate this week, before Qantas suspends all international flights until May 31 at the earliest.
It comes after NHS nurses accused the Government of “turning their backs” on them, as they were left stranded in Australia following numerous flight cancellations.
Laura Mclaughlin, who has lived in Sydney for three years, organised a group of over-50 NHS staff who want to return to the UK and rejoin the health service in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
She said she had been in contact with former colleagues in the UK about returning to work, who said they are “so short-staffed” they need as much help as possible.
Ms Mclaughlin said she had managed to secure a seat on the flight from Darwin to Heathrow, but there were a number of NHS staff, including doctors and physiotherapists, who are still searching for a route back to the UK.
“We’ve been to the embassy, trying to get hold of people to help us, but we’re just getting no answers,” Ms Mclaughlin told the PA news agency.
“I don’t think it’s good enough. We need to be prioritising flights for the NHS key workers to be getting home to be helping the pandemic.
“I have hopefully got this flight confirmed for tomorrow, but it’s still helping all the other people along the way trying to get home.”
She said one-way flights to the UK were costing upwards of 13,000 dollars (£6,600), adding: “As nurses, we don’t have that sort of money to be able to book a flight and get home.
“We’re really keen to come and help but we’re all feeling a little bit like everyone has turned their back on us at the moment.
“It’s such a long way to be stuck with no flights with no help from the embassy or the Government.”
Ms Mclaughlin said bringing back nurses from retirement was “fantastic”, but said there were young nurses around the world who want to return to help the NHS.
Paramedic Ned Starling, who has worked for London Ambulance Service for five years, said he spent all day on Tuesday at Sydney International Airport searching for flights.
“If there’s any way of just promoting this idea that if there is repatriation, there’s a whole bunch of useful people that are willing to come back now, as soon as possible, to work,” he told PA.
“I personally feel that these are people that need to be back in the country.
“My reason for wanting to come back is really because I want to provide some help at home.”
A spokeswoman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said: “We recognise British tourists abroad are finding it difficult to return to the UK because of the unprecedented international travel and domestic restrictions that are being introduced around the world – often with very little or no notice.
“The FCO is working around the clock to support British travellers in this situation to allow them to come back to the UK.”