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The British government has pledged to bring home thousands of travellers stuck abroad following a new agreement with airlines.
The global travel situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic has seen many holidaymakers stranded overseas – leading to criticism of the authorities.
In response, Virgin Atlantic, easyJet, Jet2 and Titan Airways have signed a memorandum of understanding negotiated by the foreign and transport secretaries.
British Airways have also made clear it will work with the government in the national interest to get people home.
Foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said: “This is a worrying time for many British citizens travelling abroad.
“We’ve already worked with airlines and governments to enable hundreds of thousands to return home on commercial flights, and we will keep as many of those options open as possible.
“Where commercial flights are not possible, we will build on the earlier charter flights we organised back from China, Japan, Cuba, Ghana and Peru.
“The arrangements agreed today will provide a clearer basis to organise special charter flights where Britons find themselves stranded.”
The government is focused on getting Brits home through a twin-track approach:
Encouraging airlines to recognise their responsibility for transporting their passengers with pre-booked tickets home, through offering them alternatives where routes are cancelled, allowing them to change tickets, where permissible – including between carriers – and offering them the latest information and advice as the situation changes.
Where commercial routes do not exist, the government will provide up to £75 million financial support to enable special charter flights – operated by the airlines above and others – to fly to priority countries to bring back UK residents.
Special charter flights for countries with no commercial routes will be prioritised according to the number of stranded British travellers and their vulnerability, including an assessment of the local health provision.
In some places, access for flights to land and the ability to move around within the country to assemble for return flights will also be decisive factors, the government said.
Charter flights are already up and running to Ghana and Tunisia.
Once additional flights have been arranged, these will be promoted through the government’s travel advice and by the British embassy or high commission in each country.
British travellers who want a seat on the flight will book and pay directly through a dedicated travel management company.
Secretary of state for transport, Grant Shapps said: “This is a very difficult time for British citizens travelling overseas, or those with families and loved ones abroad, which is why we are doing everything we can to ensure airlines can operate and bring people back home safely.”