Jennie Bardsley is a travel agent from Dukinfield, Greater Manchester who came to Australia in 1992.
Within a year of arriving in Perth, Jennie set up her own travel agency called British Travel and is still in business today, almost thirty years later.
Prior to the COVID19 pandemic, Jennie’s main customers were Aussies booking overseas trips and coach tours throughout Europe.
However, since Australia closed its international borders in March 2020, she has become highly experienced in understanding the strict government exemption rules and organising flights on behalf of Brits who need to return to the UK.
Bullet points of key topics & time stamps:
● 08:34 - each country you transit through and travel to have their own rules
● 11:26 - Jennie talks about coping with the surge in demand and her alopecia caused by the stress
● 15:44 - British Travel helped a man get back to the UK in time for the birth of his child
● 17:52 - AU$15,000 for flights in August 2020
● 21:18 - Jennie’s predictions for future travel restrictions
List of resources mentioned in episode, suggested reading & social media handles:
This episode if sponsored by British Travel. Specialists in bringing Australians stranded overseas back home and compassionate travel. Highly experienced in assisting with travel exemptions to leave Australia.
Contact British Travel:
Email: [email protected]
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Britstralian Producer and Host: Anna Moran
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Britstralian acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the Land we have recorded this podcast on. The area now known as the City of Armadale was originally occupied by the Noongar people many thousands of years before European settlement. We pay our respects to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
NOTE: The views and opinions shared by the guest(s) in this podcast are the views and personal experiences of the guest(s) and are not necessarily representative of the views or opinions of Britstralian and the host.
It's difficult enough at the best of times, being thousands of miles away from loved ones, when it can take more than 24 hours in the air to get back to where you come from. But since the Covid19 pandemic began, and Australia closed its borders to the rest of the world. Many Britstralians have faced difficulties getting back to the UK in even the most desperate of circumstances.
And that's where our next guest comes in.
Hi, I'm Jennie from British travel. I've been a Britstralian since 1992. I've helped thousands of Brits in and out of Australia since the start of the pandemic last year.
Jenny is the owner and director of British travel and has been so flat out with work since March last year that she's been doing 18-hour shifts, just to cope with the demand.
I want to help people. And I wanna get, you know, I want to be able to do it for people, to get them out and get them back. It's always been in my nature to do that.
Okay, so I'm originally from Manchester in the UK a little place called Dukinfield. And I've been in Australia for nearly 30 years. I pretty much arrived over here when I was 22 with my boyfriend at the time and didn't know anybody didn't have any family or anywhere to go and just winged it from there really.
Wow. What made you come to Australia then?
My boyfriend at the time had a brother who lived in Melbourne and he wanted to go and see his brother and I was working in travel in the UK at the time. So we went to Melbourne, went to Brisbane, went to Adelaide, went to Cairns, never came to Perth. But the weather looked like it was like Tenerife in Perth all year round and the house prices at the time were a lot cheaper, so we just thought that place looks great.
And what made you stay here?
I just from the moment I got here, I loved it. I loved the weather, the people, just the laid backness. What's not to like?
Do you miss anything from home?
Pudding, chips, peas and gravy. And not really anything else? Maybe Dandelion and Burdock pop, but.
Okay, so you've been running your own independent travel agency for nearly 30 years now. Is that right? Is it your It is my business?
Yeah, it is my business yeah-. And I’ve had it-, it’s 27 years. So yeah, nearly-
How did you set that up? How did that come about?
From the beginning, I was working in a travel agency in the UK. And then we came over here on holiday. And then we decided to emigrate. So we came here and I got to a job with somebody who I knew. So I worked there for probably about six or seven months, and then Britannia Airlines started flying to Australia. And not many people wanted to touch Britannia airlines because they were cheap and cheerful and they'd not really heard of charter flights in Australia at the time. So after a while of bing told by my boss at the time that my desk was too messy because I had too many files on it and my coffee cup wasn't correct, in the right place. So in the end, I took a punt and erm, set up my own business. It was actually called UK Charter at the start, which was to do with the Britannia charter flights. And it just sort of progressed from that and then obviously, the charter flights stopped, so we did the name change to British Travel.
That's really brave. That's a huge step.
From reading your website, it sounds like your main business has been with Aussies who want to go to Europe.
Correct, yes. For the last 20-odd years, basically, we've been doing outbound flights from Australia to the UK. But the pandemic’s obviously changed all of that. Pre-pandemic, somebody would ring up and they would want a holiday and it would be all jolly, and they was going to their sister's wedding or they was going to the-, you know, the Greek islands for a cruise. So, in March when the borders started to close
Last year. That's when it just turned into absolute chaos, or whatever you want to call it. Passengers who were overseas who just had to get back-.We got everybody back, near enough. There was a few people with visa issues and of course, all the airlines started canceling. So then we was just getting all the Irish and the English-
Wanting to go home-
All the other mums and dads who were here on holiday who didn't live here. So it was absolute chaos. But yeah, we managed to get everybody out. So-
Okay, so just to go back to that-, just for anyone listening. In March last year, Australia closed their international borders-
Correct. Yes. You couldn't get in or out. Yeah. Unless you were an Australian citizen or a permanent resident. But then if-, you couldn't leave Australia, unless you had a travel exemption-
Can you just explain what do you mean by that?
Okay, so Australia back in March was allowing anybody who was not a permanent resident or a citizen of Australia to leave. I.e. if your parents had come over here in Christmas for a holiday-. Anybody who wasn't a citizen, or a permanent resident was allowed to leave the country. But they then said that they didn't want anybody who was a citizen or a permanent resident to leave unless they had a compelling or compassionate reason. So a compelling a compassionate reason could be, for example, some people had sold their houses prior to the pandemic
What-, here, you mean?
Here in Australia.
And they were already shipped their furniture and they were moving back. They had to apply for an exemption to leave. That would be a fairly straight-forward process because they could prove that they'd sold their house and that they were moving back. But then there was deaths, there was illnesses. There was a lady whose house burnt down. She had to go back. I had FIFO workers who normally live in the UK, but then they come and work for four months in Australia, and then they go back for maybe three weeks, and then they come back again. So there's all different reasons why people would need a travel exemption. And my first client-, his dad had died, and he needed to get back. And I just had to learn the system-, how it works, and how to get him on a flight and how to get an exemption. So it was just-, at the time it was quite difficult and everybody was being refused. But we managed to get him a flight. I spent a lot of time and effort and reading-, and reading policies and reading legislation. And then, you know, once people knew that we could advise them of the correct way of getting out, then the word spread. And, you know, we've been inundated.
I've seen your name, Jenny Bardsley, on about a million Facebook posts where people are like, how do I get an exemption, or I need to get in, or I need to get out, or this has happened. “Contact Jennie”-
Ah, well, you know, I do have a team-, so you know, my staff work for me and they're fantastic. So they're all doing the exemptions and doing the flights and they're doing everything as well. So-
How many of you are there, in total?
So, erm-, at the start of the pandemic, there's four of us. We’re a small business, wo we've always been four of us. So now I've had to take a couple of staff on-, extra staff. We've sort of grown a little bit, especially in the last couple of weeks as well. So it's just been getting bigger and bigger.
Can you give us some examples of things that you're dealing with?
So, the first thing is that when people ring up, they don't know what to do, they don't know where to start. I've had car accidents where, you know, people's brothers have been killed in a car accident. I've had farming accidents, where, you know, erm-, somebody's dad was killed in a farming accident. This is all in the UK. So-, it's a unique situation for everybody. So it's not a case of give me A, give me B, give me C. Each individual request is different. Each individual request requires different paperwork. So there's no blanket rule for that, unfortunately. The next problem is not just putting you on a flight, because each country has its own COVID test requirement, each airline, each transit point. So it's not just as simple of getting a COVID test inside 72 hours, or inside-, you have to check each country what their rules are, and then make sure you abide by them. For example, Ireland, their COVID test is within 72 hours of landing. So if you take that back, if you're going for example, you know, Sydney-Singapore, Singapore-London, London to Dublin, then you can only have your COVID test the day before you leave Australia. So you have to be able to understand the rules. And then if you're transiting through Frankfurt, or if you're transiting through Paris,-, each, each place has got different rules. So I feel like a brain surgeon at the moment.
Oh my goodness.
Constantly reading the rules and updating the staff with all the regulations. It's erm, it's never ending.
And do the-, does the information change, because I mean-
It changes daily.
It changes hourly sometimes, in fact, so-. But yeah, it generally changes daily, so-, But it's not like they-, you can subscribe to somebody's website to get the changes. You actually have to read everything, you know, again-
How do you know where to look?
Erm, well, I've been doing it for a year now. So pretty much everything
You’re the expert!
Yeah, I know where to go to get everything, so-
What are the flight prices like at the moment? Have they gone a bit crazy as well?
Yeah, I mean, it’s-, as we say, buy cheap buy twice. So what's been happening with a lot of people who've been saying that they've been bumped is they're buying cheap and not having a human travel agent as an intervention. Because you can go on the internet and you can search for flights, put your credit card in, it'll give you a ticket, but it's not giving you all the correct rules. And it's not also letting you know about the schedule. So-.
So you’re calling these obviously cheap-, you said that these are cheaper flights, what would you class is cheaper? And what are the prices that people are paying?
What's it costing people to come home.
Currently, if you-, if you want you to fly from Perth-London, return, erm-, your starting price is about $3,500.
Okay. What's in pounds, roughly?
About half. But that's going economy in both directions. You don't necessarily have to come back in business class, it is a little bit of a fallacy-, it does help if you do come back in business class. But, you know, 95% of our clients are flying in economy class, and we're getting them there and we're getting them back as well without being bumped.
I bet your head spinning cause my head’s spinning even just listening to all this?
Yeah, completely. So-
How are you dealing with it? I mean, obviously, you say that you're working all hours.
I think my husband tried to put a message on Facebook and ask for me because I think he’d get more attention than what he would-. Erm, it's-. It's been hard. I mean, my hair fell out in probably about July, August with the stress. And that wasn't the stress of the repatriation flights, or the stress of getting people out of Australia. That was the stress of, you know, the media's perception on travel agents at the time about the, you know-. We'd done a lot, we’ve obviously booked everybody's holiday for them. But it's-, it's harder to unravel a booking than what it is to actually ‘do’ the booking because there's more components that are involved in it. And of course, you know, it wasn't just one travel agency trying to get a refund, it was every travel agency in the world, if their clients wanted a refund, and then the airline didn't have staff to-, to cope with it. So it was very stressful. So like I said, my hair fell out. I had alopecia for a few months. And yeah, it's been-
It's been stressful. I've been working-. I've had-, I think I've had a three day break to Broome in 12 months and I've seriously not had one day off. Yeah, it's hard. It has been stressful. Like I said, I've taken on more staff, which has been good. But it's still on a personal level, you know, I've not spent that much time with my kids as much as what I should do, I've not spent that much time with my friends that, you know-, my family. It's been hard, you know, but-. Well, I've proven that I can keep my business going through the pandemic. And I’ve proved that I will be around after the pandemic, which I didn't know this back March 2020. And-.
How often is your phone going off? Like how many calls do you get a day?
Oh, 5, 060 calls a day minimum. But that's-, that's the small bit. Most of it’s email. So all the Facebook messages. So-, the phones, I mean, obviously the phones go and the staff delegate the calls and ring people back. But yeah, you know, it starts off with an email, “Wonder if you can help”, and the emails are just like ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-.
Yeah, wow. Can you tell me about some of the people that you've helped?
There's a situation back in August and-, where they were already over in the UK. And then the very first reduction in the caps appeared where the government then said we were only allowing X amount of people back per week, which interpretated to about 20 people on a flight. So the numbers were extremely low. And a lot of the airlines had already been taking bookings. And they weren't pre aware of that. So, the longest that I've have ever had anybody bumped for is three weeks. And that was because the lady would only come back on a Friday, because it was a day her son could take out to the airport. But everybody else who was around-, when we did have a few bumped in August, I'd ring them up and I’d say okay, how far do you live from the airport? And they'd be like-. So I'd have like a grid and it'd be like, you know, Joan lives four hours away from the airport, how many people? Two. And Simon live two hours away from the airport. And then it'd be a case of if somebody didn't get on their flight in, say, for example, New York or Canada, then they would be an opportunity to ring them up. And so my sales reps-, the airline rep would ring me up, say we've got two seats. So I'd be saying to them, pack your bags, get your bags, I'm going to give you a call. I might call you like, in the middle of the night and everyone's like, “We don't care, we don't care”. So like, I'd ring them up and I’d so, “Go! Go now! You've got like two hours to get to the airport”. So then they get to the airport, and then they get on a flight back.
Oh my goodness.
Well, that was that was sort of-. It's not like that anymore, but it was completely like that.
But like I said, I had the backing of my airline reps, which is because I've been here so long, I pretty much know everybody in the industry. So they're pretty good. So, she’d just bring me up and say, “Yep, they're on. I can get them a flight”. So yeah, I’d just get them back. But yeah, it was erm-. It was stressful. I, I think for quite a few months, I think I had champagne being delivered and flowers being delivered every day, which is lovely. So people were appreciated, and I was appreciated that they was appreciated.
Oh, that's so lovely. I'm sure they were, you've managed to really ge-, help them out.
One particular client, he had, his partner was having a baby in the UK. And he applied-, I believe it was 26 times himself for a travel exemption and he got refused. And then it ended up being on the ABC News. And I think a few other news channels picked up the story. And somehow or other, through Facebook, someone said, contact me. So he said, “Look, you’re my last chance”. And I said “Well why didn’t you come to me the first time?”
Anyway, he got his exemption, he got back in time for his child to be born. And he sent me a picture of the baby, like the day it was born. And he was like, so that was quite lovely. Yeah.
So he made it!
He made it! He made it. But like I saw he was on channel Seven. Channel 9-, he was on-
What were the reasons to say no to him to get back for his partner giving birth?
To be honest with you, I think the documentation that he was lodging was probably-, it needed a bit more information than what he was providing. In his defense, he was providing everything that he thought he needed. But from doing it from experience-
We know what other bits of documentation-
But what could they possibly need?
Erm-, they need-, in his instance, they needed confirmation of the pregnancy. So they had to get the hospital appointments to show the-, they needed to show their delivery date. Plus as well, at the time, UK was in lockdown. So it was very difficult for his partner to be able to go to her doctor, to get all of these letters, to go to the hospital. So it was quite-
You know, so-. Then they were partners, but they had to prove that they were in a relationship as well, because there wasn't married.
Oh my goodness.
So you know, proof that they've even been together. Proof it was even his-, his child. So-
Yeah. So it went down to as nitty gritty as that.
Yeah, that was-, that was good. So, you know, like I say-, it's every time the phone goes, You don't know what you're going to get.
I've heard rumors that people are paying-, have been quoted, like 15 grand for flights.
Okay, so it all depends on the situation. So back in August, if they needed to get back then they possibly would be paying $15,000 for a one-way ticket back in business class. Because it was all that was available. But I mean, currently, I would sort of recommend my clients, if they were leaving Australia, to travel out economy, if that was their preferred form of travel, because not only do they have the airfare, they've got the quarantine expense once they get back, plus they’ve got all the-, the other $500 for all the extras that would be on top of it. But you know, if they need to come back in economy, we are pretty much advising them, probably between $3,500 and $5,000 in economy. But yeah, there has been instances where people have paid that. But it just depended on what their situation was. If they needed a flight that day, then yeah, they'd have to pay it.
Oh wow. And have you had people that have needed to get back on the day?
I've got two different markets. So I've got the first market, which is the Australians that we're helping to get out. For example, Perth-Londo, return. And then the second market is that we are quite predominant now in the UK. This is-, hence why I'm sort of working till 2am most mornings because of the time difference. So we're bringing all the stranded back from the UK, back to Australia. So it's- there’s two sort of different levels of the business, if that makes sense. So most of the people that we're dealing with in the UK now, a year after the pandemic, are the ones that have sold their house, or they've been had had to wait to sell their house, but now they need to come back. So we’re basically booking one way tickets to come back to Australia-, 95% of them and booking in economy class-
The people that are coming back, or wanting to come to Australia now, what kind of situations are they in?
They could have been an Australian doctor, who went over to do a two-year contract in the UK. It could be somebody who went to, you know-, got a scholarship for university for two years in the UK. These were all quite normal things pre-pandemic, you know, so-. They could have got a transfer from work-, they've been, you know, had a two year contract in the UK. And all these contracts are coming up and they need to get back.
Are you predominantly working with people coming to Perth, or going out of Perth?
No, the whole of Australia. So we do the whole of Australia, we don't deal-, we’re not Western Australian. The whole of Australia.
Were you before?
Previously, we were probably 60%, Western Australia 40%, you know, interstate. But now it's definitely-, I mean, I had a phone call this morning-, the lady rang about seven o'clock, but she's from Brisbane, and people don't realise the time difference, you know, so-,
Yeah, they’re ahead aren’t they?
Yeah. Or you'll get somebody you know-, luckily it’s only like, you know, two hours at the moment for Sydney, where when it’s three hours you get a phone call at five o'clock in the morning.
So-. But no. It's the whole of Australia, so-
So it's not true, then that if you leave, it's not going to be too difficult to get back in then?
I can get you back.
Do you see this-. Now the world is used to the situation as it is. It's not like back in March last year where it was just a complete shock to the system. Do you find that it's getting easier? Or is it just still as complicated every day?
It's getting more complicated.
Yeah. So in my opinion, I don't think everybody's be going to be seeing their family for Christmas. I really don't think it's going to happen. You know, thank God for FaceTime.