On board one of the first freedom flights back to Australia

Claire Meeks on her flight back to Australia this morning from the US. Picture: Supplied
Claire Meeks on her flight back to Australia this morning from the US. Picture: Supplied

This morning, former Canberra girl Claire Meeks touches down in Sydney in another milestone in Australia's COVID journey.

The 39-year-old will be on one of the first flights back home in which vaccinated Australians will not be required to quarantine, Singapore Airlines appearing to win the race, landing in Sydney at 6.05am.

Claire, who is still in the air until about 8.05am, sent us a photo from her almost-empty United Airlines flight en route from San Francisco.

"Should be able to stretch out a bit on this one," she said.

"There is max 50 people on this flight."

Claire is due in Sydney at 8.05am and will then get a connecting flight to be with her family in Canberra, including parents John and Colette Mackay, by the afternoon.

She has not been back home in more than two years.

"I am wildly excited to see my family, and hoping that my best friend will have her baby while I'm in town," Claire said from California last week.

"I'm also a bit nervous. I'm fully vaccinated and getting two COVID tests, in case I don't get results from one company in time, so I have my results before I fly. I also have to get tested when I arrive in Australia."

Today is going to be emotional for so many people.

Remember Love Actually? The 2003 piece of Christmas-romance-comedy perfection is required viewing for many fans every December.

And it doesn't matter how many times you watch the film, it is impossible not to get teary at the opening scene, a montage of real-life reunions at Heathrow Airport.

And now, after almost 20 tumultuous months, we are about to witness a flood of Love Actually-style airport reunions.

Today sees Australia's international travel ban lifted.

For the first time since March, 2020, vaccinated Australians, will be allowed to travel abroad. On that front, we're banking on some happy, even euphoric, farewells as young Australians, especially, finally get to roam the world.

But, importantly, there will also be some very emotional, very long-time-coming reunions. From today, vaccinated Australians can return home without completing mandatory hotel quarantine.

Australians travelling home must not only be double-vaxxed but also show a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken 72 hours or less before their departure. Some home quarantine may be required, depending on the state or territory.

Claire and her parents John and Colette Mackay visiting her in Sonoma, California. Picture:Supplied

Claire and her parents John and Colette Mackay visiting her in Sonoma, California. Picture:Supplied

In the ACT, travellers who are aged 18 years and over who are vaccinated with a recognised vaccine, quarantine requirements will no longer apply. Travellers will be asked to undergo testing for COVID-19 within 24 hours of arrival into the ACT. Travellers will also be asked to undergo a second test for COVID-19 between days five and six after arrival.

The ACT Government says unvaccinated travellers must complete a 14-day quarantine period at port of entry. If travel to the ACT is required for exceptional or compassionate purposes, travellers are required to seek an exemption from ACT Health. Quarantine conditions will continue to apply.

Unvaccinated travellers aged under 18 years will be managed differently. Exemptions to enter the ACT will be required, and modified quarantine and testing requirements will apply. More details are here

Travellers with a medical exemption will be managed as a fully vaccinated travellers.

For many Australians, the trip home often could not happen earlier as flights were not available, ticket prices were exorbitant or people could not afford to pay the hotel quarantine - $3000 per adult, $2500 per child.

Claire Meeks and her dad John Mackay are looking forward to a happy reunion at Canberra airport on Monday. Picture: Supplied

Claire Meeks and her dad John Mackay are looking forward to a happy reunion at Canberra airport on Monday. Picture: Supplied

Claire moved to Sonoma, California in 2016, where she lives with her husband Trevor and is a development manager for a local animal shelter.

She was last in Canberra for just 36 hours in July, 2019 to attend her grandmother's funeral.

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Her parents also visited her in California for Christmas that year and "looking back, I'm so glad they did".

Soon after, COVID started to shut down the world.

Claire is due to arrive in Sydney on UA863.

This trip, Claire will be home for two weeks, something that wasn't possible until the travel bans had eased.

"Honestly, I would have done the quarantine, but flights were insanely expensive and very unreliable. Prices were roughly $10,000 and there was no guarantee that you would fly," she said.

"Quarantine also meant that I couldn't do a shorter trip - I would have had to come for at least a month to make it worthwhile." Her flights now had cost closer to $2500.

And after giving her loved ones a hug, the thing she is most looking forward to?

"I'm going to Tu Do in O'Connor for some roast quail and spring rolls," she said, with a laugh.

This story On board one of the first freedom flights back to Australia first appeared on The Canberra Times.