Bold action by US airlines in confronting moves by Donald Trump on the immigration front has inspired a similar campaign in Australia, with over 114,000 people signing a petition urging Qantas and other airlines to refuse to help deport a Tamil asylum seeker family from regional Queensland.

After a Federal Court ruling in Melbourne on Tuesday, two members of the family have been spared imminent deportation, but two others could still be sent out of the country.

Priya and Nades and their two Australian-born daughters were in immigration detention last night, having been removed from Biloela in central Queensland where they have lived and worked for several years. Biloela is a rural town in Banana Shire,about 120 kilometres inland from Gladstone.

Biloela resident Angela Fredericks launched an impassioned appeal on “calling for Qantas and other airlines to refuse to fly Priya, Nades and their Australian-born daughters towards the danger that awaits them if deported”.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton couldn’t deport the family “without the help of pilots, flight attendants and ground crew,” Fredericks said.

As of yesterday, over 114,000 people, including a number in the travel industry, had signed the petition to halt the deportation, and the number of signatures was heading this morning towards the target of 150,000.

Biloela. Children with cardboard plane wings

The action follows highly effective travel industry moves in the US, when airlines and some of their unions came out in opposition to the Trump administration’s decision to separate immigrant children from their families.

American Airlines told the US government “to immediately refrain from using American for the purpose of transporting children who have been separated from their families”. The airline stated it had “no desire to be associated with separating families, or worse, to profit from it”.

The family from Biloela in central Queensland at the centre of the storm

Soon after, United Airlines followed, with its chief executive Oscar Munoz saying the administration’s actions conflicted with the airline’s mission “and we want no part of it”.

Frontier Airlines was next, US site Politico reported. The carrier tweeted that it would “not knowingly allow our flights to be used to transport migrant children away from their families”.

Likewise, Southwest said it did “not wish to have involvement in the process of separating children from their parents”.

As pressure mounted, Trump did a U-turn, signing an executive order reversing the policy. Delta Air Lines then issued a statement “applauding” Trump for “resolving” the issue and stating that family separation does not “align with Delta’s core values.”

Such is the power of travel and airlines!

Written by Peter Needham