The UK government has announced this afternoon that a staggering £75m ($93m) is being put aside to operate repatriation flights for the hundreds of Britons stranded overseas. It noted that priority will be given to the most vulnerable people, and to those nations where the highest numbers of people are stranded.
Hope for stranded Brits abroad
With the closing of borders around the world, many people have found themselves stranded with no means of getting back to the UK. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab noted that this wasn’t just a few people, but hundreds of thousands of people at the time of the coronavirus outbreak.
Since the UK began locking down, the government has been urging travelers to come back home. Raab noted that on the 23rd March, the government instructed those who were traveling to return to the UK as a matter of urgency.
However, many of these people have found themselves unable to do so, as airports close, flights are suspended and governments impose restrictions on movements that make them unable to get out of the country.
Raab highlighted the plight of a diverse range of travelers, saying that this affected everyone “from young backpackers to retired couples on cruises.” The government moved to assure those people that it is working around the clock to support, advise and assist those people in getting home.
Today, it has announced a series of measures designed to help those people get the help they need, and to get back to the UK.
£75m to get people home
Over the weekend, the government held talks with numerous other governments around the world regarding Britons stranded in their nations. Raab stated that The Foreign Office is working with those other governments to put measures in place to get people where they need to be, as well as working with airlines.
Today, Raab announced a raft of new measures that will strive to return stranded passengers to their home nation. The UK is working with British Airways, Virgin, easyJet, Jet2 and Titan, although this may be expanded in the coming days and weeks.
Raab said that the first priority was to keep commercial routes flying. In this situation, airlines would be responsible for getting people home and are being urged to sell seats for little to no cost to make getting home affordable to all. The new measures would even allow passengers to change tickets between carriers. The message from Raab for those stranded was clear,
“Don’t wait … book your tickets as soon as possible.”
In the situation where flights are no longer operational, the UK is promising to provide financial support for special charter flights to operate. These will be promoted through the government’s travel advice page online and via the High Commission or Embassy in that country. Passengers will book and pay directly to a dedicated travel management company.
The UK has designated £75m to support those flights and so that airlines can keep the costs down and make it affordable for those seeking to return to the UK. The priority will be the most vulnerable people, including the elderly, those with health concerns and those countries with large numbers of people trying to get home.
How to find out about these flights
The UK government has told stranded travelers to check with the Foreign Office for advice. It is running a dedicated web page that is being updated constantly with new information.
Raab also stated that Brits abroad should follow social media accounts for the UK Embassy or High Commission for the country they are in. He also said that there is a helpline number that is operational 24/7, offering advice and support.
Travelers have reported issues in getting hold of people on the helpline number previously, but Raab says they are stepping up the effort to make this service work better. On a normal, average day, the contact center would receive around 1,000 calls. Last Tuesday, he said, there were more than 15,000.
As such, the government has boosted resources, redeployed workers and has effectively tripled capacity for the call center. Now, Raab says, they are answering 99% of the calls that come in.
The Foreign Office is keen to stress that it is working around the clock in partnership with other governments to keep airports open and to bring people home.
Are you stranded abroad? Does this announcement give you hope of rescue soon? Let us know in the comments.