Although diplomats in Rome said that UK citizens were free to leave the vast quarantine zone, BA halted flights in and out of the country today and said it would review the situation daily. Other airlines were reviewing their services.
Ryanair was still offering £19.99 value fares leaving Italy tomorrow, but tickets for its only flight with seats this afternoon from Rome Ciampino to Stansted jumped in price to £187. Others were sold out. Many frustrated travellers took to social media. Samantha Thomas wrote on Twitter: “We are now stranded in Italy since lockdown last night. BA not taking our calls now — no online advice, no assistance.”
She claimed that she had been told it would cost £400 in “fees” to get a new flight. Skier Ms Thomas told the Standard: “We are currently in Canazei ski resort, which until last night had no reported cases of the virus. Today the whole ski resort shut down without notice with restaurants and bars closing and food being rationed. We have a scheduled BA flight out on Saturday in Verona but we are unsure if our flights are cancelled as we have had no response from BA either on the website or by email. Verona flights are either all sold out or unavailable and we have to now sit tight to see if our flight will leave on Saturday as planned. We are just reading websites for updates but there is no news from the authorities.”
Oliver Golding tweeted: “British_Airways what am I supposed to do regarding my return flight from Turin to LGW with BA on Thursday? Been on hold for over an hour now. Leaving 30k British citizens stranded in Italy is disgraceful.”
Another user, called Jes, added: “British_Airways you’ve cancelled our flight from FCO-LHR today! No way to rebook. We are stranded in Italy and want to go home. We can’t get through to your service line!”
BA passengers due to fly to or from the country up to April 4 were told they could “rebook to a later date up until the end of May, move their destination to Geneva or Zurich or receive a full refund”. A spokesman said: “In light of the Italian government’s announcement and the UK Government’s official travel advice, we have contacted all customers who are due to travel today.
“We have updated our policy to give customers more options and flexibility. We recommend that any travellers continue to check their booking on ba.com for the latest information.”
Ryanair was flying a severely reduced service from Milan’s Bergamo and Malpensa airports as well as Venice, Parma, Rimini and Treviso with a maximum of one flight a day. EasyJet said it was continuing to fly on all Italian routes but had reduced frequencies. More cancellations were expected after March 13.
Meanwhile Wizz Air cancelled all flights to Italy until April 3 with immediate effect. The airline flies to 13 destinations including Bari, Bologna, Milan, Naples, Venice and Rome. Diplomats advised that trains were still running out of Italy to the rest of the European Union and roads were open.
The Foreign Office changed its travel advice last night to warning against all but essential trips to Italy. Around three million British nationals visit the country each year.
The change followed the announcement by Italian premier Giuseppe Conte that just 24 hours after he put three regions containing 16 million people into quarantine, the restrictions were being expanded to cover the entire country. It means travel is curbed, museums shut and large gatherings banned.
Payments on mortgages will be suspended to help families through the crisis, said deputy economy minister Laura Castelli. Pope Francis urged Catholic priests to “have the courage” to go out and help those stricken.
Italian doctors celebrated one small victory after a 38-year-old man known as “Patient No1” was moved out of intensive care. He tested positive on February 21 at the start of the crisis.
But in hardest-hit northern Italy, the virus’s spread was forcing doctors to make life-or-death decisions on who would get scarce beds in care. Lombardy has 440 critical virus patients. It has cobbled together 150 more beds in the last two weeks and expects another 150 in the coming week.