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Government to organise rescue flights for Brits stranded abroad

Tens of thousands of UK travellers who are stranded abroad will be flown home thanks to a new Government rescue plan announced today, which will see airlines step up efforts to help passengers and some £75 million spent on special charter flights.

Unveiling the plan today, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that Brits stuck in countries where commercial flights back to the UK are still available should still try to organise their own travel as soon as possible, with airlines having pledged to help passengers with pre-booked tickets find alternative flights where possible.

But he added: "Where commercial flights are no longer running, the Government will provide support for special charter flights to help British nationals back home."

Virgin, Easyjet, Jet2 and Titan Airways have signed a "memorandum of understanding" to work with the Government, while British Airways has also made it clear that it will help to get people home.

Today's announcement comes after the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) last week urged all British tourists and short-stay travellers currently abroad to return to the UK immediately as a result of the global impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

For all the latest help for travellers affected by coronavirus, see our Coronavirus Travel Help guide.

How does the Government plan to get Brits home?

The FCO says the plan which has been agreed is two-fold:

  • Airlines will recognise their responsibility for transporting their passengers with pre-booked tickets home. This will include offering alternatives where the airline's own flights are cancelled. Passengers will be allowed to change tickets where possible, including to other airlines, and offered the latest info and advice.

  • Where commercial routes do not exist, the Government will provide up to £75 million in financial support to enable special charter flights operated by the airlines above and likely more. These will fly to priority countries to bring back UK residents.

    The Government says that special charter flights for countries with no commercial routes will be prioritised according to the number of stranded British travellers and their vulnerability, including an assessment of the local health provision. In some places, access for flights to land and the ability to move around within the country to assemble for return flights will also be decisive factors. 

    Charter flights are already up and running to Ghana and Tunisia, with India and South Africa likely to be added this week.

    You're likely to have to pay for a seat on one of these charter flights, though we're confirming details with the FCO. For example, seats on the flight it's running from Ghana will cost £500 per person.

I'm stranded abroad – what should I do?

If you're stuck abroad your first call should be to your airline or holiday company, to find out what flights it's running and what it can offer you. If you've already spoken to it and got nowhere, it may now be worth speaking to it again as many airlines have today pledged to fully honour their responsibilities to passengers with tickets booked.

If your airline or holiday company's unable to help, the FCO says you should check if commercial flights out of the country are still operating. You can do this by checking airlines' websites, FCO travel advice pages for the country you are in and local British embassies' social media accounts.

If there are no commercial options, you should sign up to alerts on the FCO travel advice page for the country you're in and follow embassy social media and email updates. When special return flights become available, these will be advertised there and those who have registered for updates will be contacted via email. Again, you're likely to have to pay for this flight, so check the cost.

If you're in real need, the Government says consular teams will work with you to consider your options. As a last resort, the FCO may be able to issue you an emergency loan, though this will depend on the circumstances. 

What does the Government say?

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: "This is a worrying time for many British citizens travelling abroad. We've already worked with airlines and governments to enable hundreds of thousands to return home on commercial flights, and we will keep as many of those options open as possible.

"Where commercial flights are not possible, we will build on the earlier charter flights we organised back from China, Japan, Cuba, Ghana and Peru. The arrangements agreed today will provide a clearer basis to organise special charter flights where Britons find themselves stranded. Our priority will always be the most vulnerable."

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