The UK Foreign Office has announced it will spend £75 million to support efforts to bring Britons stranded abroad back to the UK.
Hundreds of thousands of people are thought to be struggling to get home from overseas after the government advised all British travellers to come home as soon as possible on March 23.
Many have written to Business Traveller to say they cannot find flights from countries including the Philippines, Australia, Turkey, Pakistan and India, and have criticised a lack of information on their options.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said today:
“Where commercial routes remain an option, airlines will be responsible for getting passengers home.
“That means offering alternative flights at little to no cost where routes have been cancelled, and allowing passengers to change tickets, including between carriers.
“For those in those countries where commercial options are still available, don’t wait. Don’t run the risk of getting stranded. The airlines are standing by to help you, please book your tickets as soon as possible.”
Where commercial flights are no longer running, the government will provide airlines with £75 million to put on special charter flights to bring UK nationals back home.
Once arranged, the charter flights will be promoted on the relevant country pages on gov.uk, and through the social media channels of the British Embassy or High Commission in each country.
Tickets will have to be booked and paid for through travel management company CTM.
The £75 million is intended to keep the cost of these tickets down.
“Our priority will be the most vulnerable, including the elderly and those with pressing medical needs, and looking in particular at the countries where we’ve got large numbers of stranded tourists trying to get home.”
It has signed a memorandum of understanding with British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Easyjet, Jet2 and Titan, and said more airlines may be added.
Anyone overseas should check the social media or web pages of their local Embassy or High Commission for information from local authorities.
However, these may not have more information immediately available. The latest post from the British Embassy in Turkey, where many people are stuck following a ban on international flights, states that people may have to take charter flights to third country airports where there may end up in quarantine.
It advises people to check the latest information by searching ‘UKinTurkey’ online.
The Foreign Office also has 24 hour helplines available, though Raab acknowledged people had been struggling to get through as demand surged last week.
He said the call centre normally handled 1,000 calls a day, and last Tuesday received 15,000. Staff capacity has now been tripled.
Raab also said this afternoon:
“Airports have been closing down or preventing airlines from operating on a commercial basis, local authorities have placed restrictions on movement that prevent people from getting to the airport, and the critical transit hubs that we rely on for long-haul flights are also shutting down or limiting their flights.
“Some of this has been done with very little notice or no notice at all, which makes it very difficult to respond.”
Airport hubs including Dubai International, Abu Dhabi International, Singapore Changi and Hong Kong International all closed to transit passengers last week.
However, British Airways has continued to use Singapore Changi as a refuelling stop for rescue flights from Sydney. The airline did not respond to a request for comment.
While Gulf carriers Emirates, Etihad and Oman Air have suspended international flights amid country-wide travel bans, Qatar Airways has announced numerous capacity increases on routes from Australia, and to Paris, Dublin, Frankfurt and London from Doha.
Shadow Foreign Emily Thornberry, quoted by Sky News, commented:
“We were promised a new strategy on repatriations today, but for the hundreds of thousands of Brits stranded abroad and their families back home it was just more of the same.
“More reliance on commercial flights, which, for too many British travellers based in too many locations, are simply not an option at present.
“More vague promises about charter flights, but none of the commitment or urgency other countries like Germany have put into this.”