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18 Mar 2020

Coronavirus: UK passengers stranded abroad

Holidaymakers face extortionate fees to return home

British holidaymakers struggling to return home after coronavirus restrictions were put in place are in fear of being left stranded without accommodation. Others are being charged a fortune to get home.

As the pandemic spreads and many countries go into lockdown, more of the world's flights are being cancelled and hotels are closing. Many travellers are desperately trying to fly home before flights are stopped.

One passenger stranded in Hurghada, Egypt told us that their holiday company hadn't even informed them that their flight was cancelled. They only found out by checking the easyJet app.

'I spent an hour on the phone queue with Travel Republic, who we booked the flights and accommodation with, only to be told we needed to contact easyJet,' says Stacey Harris.

Stacey then spent a further two hours on the phone to easyJet, before eventually being told that they had no flights and would need to book with another airline. Ultimately, Stacey did manage to book another easyJet flight home on Saturday, and is still hoping that it goes ahead.

Under the Package Holiday Regulations, Travel Republic is responsible for getting Stacey home. It told us:

u201cAt Travel Republic, we have been working tirelessly on behalf of our customers as we face this truly unprecedented event.

We are really sorry, due to the scale of the situation and the volume of customers who have been impacted by this crisis, we haven't been able to respond to all customers as we would normally expect to. As of 6pm today (Weds 18 March) every customer will have received an email from us detailing the information they need regarding their repatriation.

The well-being of our customers is our main priority and we would like to thank them for their patience and understanding during this truly difficult time. '

Airlines demand high fees

Passengers trying to change their flights to avoid getting stuck overseas are facing extortionate fees to change their flights.

A traveller in South Africa was told she would need to pay nearly £2,000 to bring forward the return date for her and her son.

She is concerned that flights will no longer be departing by the time she is due to travel this weekend, and has had no response from the British Embassy.

See our video here with more advice

Passengers stuck in Morocco

The situation is particularly alarming in Morocco. With flights cancelled and confusing information circulating, many British holidaymakers have been contacting the embassy to try and get home. It has released a statement saying that 'a limited number of flights to the UK from Marrakesh continue to be posted online on the British Embassy social media accounts'. But it warns that 'seats on these flights will be booked quickly'.

EasyJet has said on its website: 'We are committed to getting you home. To try and make sure everyone who needs to travel is able to, easyJet is putting on a number of rescue flights over the coming days.'

It also says: 'If a country changes its travel advice there will be a short delay in our flights being cancelled, and following that rescue flights will be published.'

Holidaymakers panic as hotels told to close

It's now even more urgent for holidaymakers to get home, as many countries are closing holiday accommodation. Spain has ordered all hotels and short-term accommodation to close by Tuesday next week. In Cyprus all holiday accommodation has to close this Saturday until at least the end of April.

In both cases the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised: 'British travellers who wish to return to the UK are advised to make travel plans to do so as soon as possible.'

Airlines cancelling flights

At the current time there are still rescue flights to get most passengers home, but services are rapidly dwindling.

Ryanair has announced that it will be reducing its flights by around 80% between now and Tuesday 24 March. After that date, few, if any, planes will be flying in the near future - only those required to maintain 'essential connections' between the UK and Ireland.

EasyJet and British Airways are also grounding the majority of flights.

What should I do if I'm stranded abroad?

The holiday company, travel agent or airline that you booked with is obliged to get you home. In normal circumstances we would advise to you to contact them and wait for them to arrange a flight. This should still be your first step, but in this unprecedented crisis many are falling short, and embassies have not always been able to help.

It may be advisable to get on the first available flight home and not wait for arrangements to be made for you. You are entitled to claim back expenses from your holiday provider.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: 'Airlines must stop cashing in on the misfortune of their customers, and prioritise getting them home safely - going above and beyond their legal obligations where necessary.

'The government must also up its game and provide British citizens fearful of being stranded abroad with useful advice.

'Where scheduled services have been withdrawn, it should explore all options to get these people on flights home.