‘The whole plane was clapping’: First quarantine-free flights arrive to Tim Tams and native flowers

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Passengers on flights into Sydney airport were allowed to walk straight out of the international arrivals gate and into the arms of their families and friends for the first time in 20 months on Monday morning.

The travellers on board a Qantas flight from Los Angeles were among the first to experience eased travel restrictions that enable fully vaccinated overseas travellers arriving in NSW, Victoria and the ACT to skip hotel quarantine.

Emma Arzoumanian was among passengers given posies of Australian native flowers and gum leaves as they arrived at Sydney International Airport on Monday morning.Credit:Kate Geraghty

Simon Yule, who lives in Sacramento, California, embraced his father with a happy “hey, dad” at the arrivals gate shortly after 6am. Their reunion marked the start of Mr Yule’s first trip back to Australia in three years.

“I hadn’t seen [Dad] in such a long time,” Mr Yule said. “It’s fantastic to be home. It’s been too long.

“It has been pretty crazy the last two years. There’s been a lot of letdowns. The flight was awesome, it was quite an experience to be on.”

The changes to overseas travel rules have cleared the path for thousands of Australians to return home or visit family and friends overseas, many for the first time since international borders snapped shut in March 2020.

Overseas travellers arriving in NSW no longer need to spend two weeks in hotel quarantine. Credit:Kate Geraghty

Qantas workers held signs that read “QF12 crew, we love you” and “Back in the air” to greet the plane’s crew, while airport staff handed arriving travellers Tim Tam biscuits, and posies of native flowers and gum leaves.

Mr Yule said being able to walk out of the airport terminal with his father without a delay was “awesome” and he probably would not have returned home if he had to spend two weeks in hotel quarantine.

Alan Yule left his home in Grenfell in Central West NSW at 12.15am to pick up his son.

“Wow, this is different, isn’t it?” Mr Yule said of the crowd of family members and media gathered at the arrival gate. “It’s absolutely different. It’s all a bit too much to take in. But it is a special day.“

Qantas customer service manager Paul Wason (centre) waves as the crew from QF12 from Los Angeles arrives at Sydney International airport.Credit:Kate Geraghty

He said the pair was driving back to Grenfell immediately.

“I’m happy to get to spend a bit more time with [my son]. I’ve been missing him, so I’m just going to savour it.

“I’ll get him used to driving on the lefthand side of the road again on the way home, I think.“

Passenger Emma Arzoumanian, who has been in the United States for the past two months for family reasons, said she had been willing to quarantine with her husband and son, but was relieved it was no longer necessary.

“I’m feeling excited to be back. I’m straight off the plane and back to work. I get to see my best friend who’s waiting for me outside. Coming into Sydney was just so emotional, the whole plane was clapping.“

Among the happy reunions, there was sadness as well. Rozlyn Collier, who lives with her family in Canada, flew back to Australia to spend time with her relatives and to attend the funeral of her father, who died last week.

“It’s really bittersweet to come home. It’s two years to the day since I saw my dad.“

Ms Collier has lived overseas for the past 19 years and said soaring over the coast and Sydney Harbour at sunrise was “amazing”.

“It was fantastic to see the Australian shoreline again. This will always be home.”

Qantas flight attendant Josh Alexander said the trip to Sydney “just felt like normal” after months of working on international repatriation flights.

“We could do full service. The passengers were so happy, they just loved hearing Aussie accents.“

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