Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said ‘tens of thousands’ of stranded British travellers would be flown home under a new partnership between the Government and airlines.
Speaking at the Downing Street press conference, he said: “I can today announce a new arrangement between the Government and airlines to fly home tens of thousands of stranded British travellers, where commercial flights are no longer possible.
“Partner airlines include British Airways, Virgin, easyJet, Jet2 and Titan and this list can be expanded.
“Under the arrangements that we are putting in place we will target flights from a range of priority countries, starting this week.”
Mr Raab said there had been unprecedented demand on the Foreign Office’s helplines but confirmed staffing had been tripled to help deal with the onslaught of calls.
The Foreign Office call centre was available for those who could not find the advice they required in the Government’s online travel advice or from British embassies, he said.
“I know it has been difficult to get through for some travellers,” he said.
“To give you an indication of the sheer volume, on average we normally receive 1,000 calls a day to that call centre.
“Last Tuesday, we had nearly 15,000, the highest on record.
“So we boosted our resources, we have redeployed people to our call centre, we’ve tripled our capacity.
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“Yesterday, the call centre answered 99% of calls and helped thousands of British travellers get the answers they need.”
Mr Raab said airlines would be responsible for getting passengers home where commercial routes remain an option.
“That means offering alternative flights at little to no cost where routes have been cancelled, and it means allowing passengers to change tickets – including between carriers.
“So for those still 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.”
The Foreign Secretary said that in countries where commercial flights are not available, the Government would provide the ‘necessary financial support for special charter flights to bring UK nationals back home’.
“Once special charter flights have been arranged, we will promote them through the Government’s travel advice and by the British embassy or High Commission in the relevant country.
“British travellers who want a seat on those flights will book and pay directly through a dedicated travel management company.
“We have designated £75 million to support those flights and the airlines in order to keep the costs down and affordable for those seeking to return to the UK.”
Mr Raab said priority would be given to the most vulnerable – including the elderly or those with pressing medical needs – and also to countries where there are large numbers of British tourists trying to return to the UK.
Mr Raab said an ‘unprecedented’ number of British travellers were trying to return to the UK – which he estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.
He said around 150,000 British nationals had been helped back from Spain, while 8,500 were brought back from Morocco and 5,000 from Cyprus.
“We’ve not faced challenges like this in getting people home from abroad on this scale in recent memory,” he added.
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