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‘Like The Terminal’: Aussies stranded in the US after plane breaks down

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

A group of Australians say they have been left stranded at a US airport after their plane broke down and they were unable to get a new flight because of coronavirus rules.

A group of Australians say they have been left stranded at a US airport after their plane broke down and they were unable to get a new flight because of coronavirus rules.

Several passengers told they had to get off the United Airlines plane set to depart San Francisco for Sydney last night, after the aircraft suffered a mechanical fault.

The passengers said they were told they were unable to transfer to the next available flight.

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The group had already been counted under Australia's strict 'flight caps' rule, which limits the numbers of people returning home.

They were then told they were not allowed on the next scheduled United flight.

Only 6290 people a week are allowed to fly into Australia, where they will then quarantine for two weeks, which costs around $3000 for an individual and $5000 for a family.

Ben Kalman, 34, a passenger on the plane, was told he had to pay more than $30,000 for business class tickets for him and his partner - or wait until next year to get an economy flight.

He told he has given up his home and tech job in San Francisco, where he has lived and worked for eight years, to move back to Sydney with his American girlfriend to be closer to family.

Mr Kalman said the airline told the passengers the Australian Government said were are not allowed to get the next flight.

How this morning, United Airlines said permission has been given for the stranded passengers to fly home today or tomorrow.

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"Last night, United flight 863 from San Francisco to Sydney was cancelled due to a mechanical issue," a spokeswoman told

"We received approval from the relevant government authorities to make an exemption to Australia's capacity restrictions.

"We are contacting the customers to notify them and assist in scheduling their journey home."

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Mr Kalman said he was "exasperated and frustrated" by the ordeal.

"We sat on the runway for two hours, three hours, until 2am," he said.

"There was a mechanical failure. They took everyone off.

"They said they contacted the Australian Government to try to get 30 people special permission to be on the next United Flight.

"Eventually we heard the government had said no, they wouldn't give us special permission.

"There were a lot of angry people.

"I'm still processing how silly the situation is. I'm exasperated and frustrated."

Another Australian on the flight, Celia Mortlock, appealed on social media for help this morning.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a senate inquiry the return of Australians stranded overseas during the pandemic is a Federal Government priority but significant hurdles remain.

Up to 37,000 Australians stranded overseas because of the coronavirus pandemic are anxiously awaiting news about whether they'll be able to make it home in time for Christmas.

Mr Morrison admitted this may not be possible and said quarantine hotel capacity managed by state governments was proving a challenge.

Deputy Labor Leader Kristina Keneally, who has been campaigning to get more Aussies home, shared posts online about the flight.

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"Hey, @ScottMorrisonMP @MarisePayne @M_McCormackMP all that nonsense from your departments yesterday regarding helping #strandedAussies?" she wrote.

"This failure appears to be happening live, right now, for 30 Aussies in San Francisco."

DFAT has been contacted for comment.

Contact journalist Sarah Swain:

Source: 9News

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