UK tourists stranded abroad spending ‘every waking moment’ trying to get home
Demand for seats on rescue flights appears to be outstripping supply.
UK travellers stranded overseas have expressed anger at the amount of time and money it is taking them to get home.
One woman said she is spending “every waking moment” trying to return.
A £75 million operation to charter flights from destinations where commercial routes have been severed due to the coronavirus pandemic was launched by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office last week, but demand for seats appears to be outstripping supply.
Two rescue flights chartered by the Government will repatriate British nationals from the Philippines on Tuesday.
Further flights will operate this week from India, South Africa and Nepal.
Shekhar Sharma, a 42-year-old banker from London, has lived in the UK for the last 16 years but is stranded in India after visiting his parents.
He has registered for a rescue flight from Delhi to London and paid the £581 fee, but has been told that only gets him a spot on a waiting list.
He said: “The UK seems to be the last country to be trying to bring people back home.
“There are 20,000 people who have registered to try and get back from India, so it does not seem like the effort they are putting in is nearly enough to get people home.
“I have now been waiting in Delhi for 15 days to try and get home.
“I am lucky because I am in a position to pay, but when a normal return flight is between £500 and £600, to charge £581 for one way seems a lot.
“The UK Government promised it was spending £75 million to get people home, but where has that money gone? These fares do not seem subsidised at all.”
Mr Sharma is particularly eager to return to London as he only has enough medication left to last him for three days and he is due to start a new job soon.
“I really do not want to be out of a job in the current situation,” he added.
Carina Rees, 22, from Swansea, has become stranded in India with her partner Oskar Fields, 23.
The pair left home in early February and planned to travel around India and Sri Lanka until at least June, but want to cut their trip short due to the coronavirus outbreak.
They have both paid for a seat on a rescue flight from Delhi, but do not know when they will get home.
Ms Rees said: “We travelled all around the North before arriving in Agra. When we turned up, we were told that the hotel was no longer accepting foreigners, and to find somewhere else to stay.
“We had to try five or six hotels before we found someone who managed a guest house willing to let us stay.
“Then the country got put into lockdown and we were told we would not be able to leave Agra – we only had four hours’ notice so didn’t have time to travel anywhere else.
“We spent 18 days in Agra living on instant noodles and biscuits. The owner of the guest house was lovely but our room didn’t have a window or air-conditioning.
“We are now in Delhi and are waiting to find out if we can return home. We have paid for the flight but we don’t actually know when it will be.”
A family of nine, who did not want to be named, went to Cape Town, South Africa, for a wedding on March 11 but cannot get home as the country has closed its airspace.
The group, including a toddler and a seven-year-old child, were unable to get seats on earlier flights after the airspace closure was announced.
A family member told the PA news agency: “On the 26th, with no way home, I registered with the High Commission/Foreign and Commonwealth Office that we were here and needed to get home.
“I didn’t even get confirmation of that registration until the 31st.
“Since then I’ve spent every waking moment trying to find out how we can get home.
“Finally the repatriation flights were announced. We are having to pay £856 per person for those flights. That’s just short of £7,000 for my family. Up until now we still don’t have confirmation we have a flight. Just got to sit and wait.”
The woman added that their travel insurance provider has indicated that the family are not covered as the circumstances fall under an “act of God” exclusion.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said more than 2,000 UK nationals have so far been repatriated on charter flights from seven different countries, including Peru, Ghana and Tunisia.
Last week, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps estimated that around 300,000 UK travellers were stranded.
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