Australians in the US frantic about getting their pets home during the coronavirus pandemic have been thrown a lifeline with Qantas announcing a limited number of Los Angeles to Melbourne flights.
Expats moving home have been forced to leave their dogs and cats with friends or boarding kennels in America after the pandemic led airlines to severely cut back or abandon their US to Australia flight schedules.
The four new Qantas flights to Melbourne, where Australia's pet quarantine facility is located, offer fresh hope.
"It was music to our ears," Scott Williams, manager of Australian-owned, Los Angeles-based Pet-Express specialising in international pet shipping, said on Thursday.
"We are frantically scrambling."
Qantas announced on Thursday limited flights to Melbourne from Los Angeles and London.
The LA to Melbourne flights are scheduled for May 16, 23 and 30 and June 6, giving families and companies like Pet-Express a small window to try to snare one of the six spots per flight Qantas allows.
Australia's only quarantine facility for pets is in Mickleham, outside of Melbourne.
Australia, with its strict border laws, requires pets entering Australia to be on a direct flight landing in Melbourne and then transported to Mickleham.
At the outset of the pandemic lockdown Qantas and Virgin Australia had limited flights from LA, but they landed in Brisbane so did not cater for pets.
United Airlines is the only airline flying directly from the US to Australia daily, but flights stop in Sydney.
Mr Williams said he has 50 clients with pets ready to book their pets on the Melbourne flights.
He hopes more flights will be announced.
With limits on how many pets per flight - and cats and dogs having to undergo vet and blood tests that take months to complete - some kind of certainty on future US-Australia flight schedules would alleviate the stress and hurdles families are facing.
Families have had to make the difficult choice of leaving their pets in the US and are not sure when they will see them again.
"We have clients with a cat sitting in a Houston vet's boarding kennel waiting to come," Mr Williams said.
One of Mr Williams' employees agreed to look after an Australian family's dog at her home while they waited for a flight to open up.
The new Qantas London-Melbourne flights are on May 13, 15, 20, 22, 27, 29 and June 3 and 5.