The government has announced a £75m rescue mission to repatriate an estimated 300,000 British stranded abroad because of the coronavirus outbreak. How will this work and who will be selected for a flight home?
What is the UK’s plan?
The repatriation effort involves a mixture of commercial routes and charter flights. The government is encouraging everyone who can get on an international flight to do so without delay.
Should I wait for a charter flight if I am stuck in a country where flights are still going even if the airline I booked with has cancelled its flights?
No. The government has made it clear these countries will not be priorities. The statement by the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said it was the responsibility of airlines that had cancelled routes to get passengers home “at little or no cost”.
What if my flight has been cancelled and I can’t get through to the airline?
Many travellers in Asian or Australasian destinations have complained that when Emirates grounded all its planes last Wednesday, they were left stranded and they could not get through to the airline. Again, the government, has pushed the responsibility on to the airline. “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.”
I am being charged £3,000 to fly home. That is not ‘little to no cost’
The government is not subsidising fares but is imploring airlines not to overcharge and to be reasonable. It says that those who are struggling to afford the ticket prices can avail of “emergency loans” through the undertaking to repay (UTR) scheme that already existed for those stranded who are in financial hardship. It says it will offer flexible repayment schemes to facilitate the loans.
What countries will be chosen for charter flights?
Those where borders are shut and airports are closed to passenger traffic. India and South Africa have been named as priority countries for this reason. New Zealand and Argentina are also likely candidates because of lockdowns.
If you are a British national in India and wish to return to the UK, the Foreign Office advice is to email Conqry.Newdelhi@fco.gov.uk with your details including age, contact, location, and any special circumstances.
The government has said it will prioritise flights to countries where no commercial flights are operating according to the number of people stranded and the vulnerability of people in the country.
When will we know the list of countries with charter rescues?
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, has said it will take days. So expect the first announcements by the end of the week.
How many charter flights are expected?
It is understood they will run to “hundreds”.
How will the government know where I am?
It has asked British nationals to get in touch with local embassies and high commissions. All data is being collected by a call centre in Malaga where the staff numbers have been tripled. The FCO says it is open 24/7.
What if I am stuck in a remote location and travel restrictions mean I cannot get to the airport?
The Foreign Office says the local embassies will deal with this “on a case by case basis”. It says it will also work with other countries to accommodate transit passage.
I live in the UK but am an EU citizen with settled status, can I get a seat on the charter flights?
The government is prioritising UK nationals and advising those with settled status or indefinite leave to remain to seek help in the first instance from the embassies of their birth nations.