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Airlines to begin rescue flights on Friday for Britons stranded in Sharm

Published 05/11/2015

People lay flowers in memory of the plane crash victims at Dvortsovaya (Palace) Square in St Petersburg (AP)
People lay flowers in memory of the plane crash victims at Dvortsovaya (Palace) Square in St Petersburg (AP)

Airlines will begin r epatriating British holidaymakers stranded in Sharm el-Sheikh tomorrow after an agreement was reached with the Egyptian authorities on a package of new security measures.

The UK Government announced its dramatic decision to suspend air links with the Egyptian resort last night after a Russian airliner crashed last weekend.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said it is "more likely than not" that the plane was brought down by a terrorist bomb.

More than 20 flights are set to be operated from Sharm to the UK tomorrow amid tightened security, including a ban on airlines carrying hold luggage.

The Government gave permission for the flights to go ahead following talks between the Prime Minister and Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, and further discussions with the airlines and Egyptian authorities.

Downing Street said: "The Prime Minister held talks on the situation with president Sisi earlier today and, following further discussions with the airlines and the Egyptians we have agreed on a package of additional security measures that is being put in place rapidly."

Confirmation that flights would resume came after a day of intense negotiations between the Government, the Egyptian leadership and the airlines.

A Number 10 spokeswoman said: "We have been working on the situation in Sharm el-Sheikh throughout the day and there was a cross-Whitehall meeting of senior officials late this afternoon to review our response.

"Our utmost priority is to make sure we have all the right measures in place to ensure that British citizens can return safely to the UK.

"The Prime Minister held talks on the situation with president Sisi earlier today and, following further discussions with the airlines and the Egyptians we have agreed on a package of additional security measures that is being put in place rapidly. Consequently the Government has decided, in consultation with the airlines, that flights from Sharm to the UK will resume tomorrow.

"We advise British nationals in Sharm to check with their airline or tour operator on their travel plans.

"The additional security measures will include permitting passengers to carry hand baggage only and transporting hold luggage separately. We are working with the airlines to ensure there are suitable arrangements in place to reunite passengers with their belongings as soon as possible.

"Outbound flights from the UK to Sharm el-Sheikh remain suspended and the Foreign Office continues to advise against all but essential travel by air to or from Sharm el-Sheikh airport but we are continuing to work with the Egyptians to get back to normal service as soon as possible."

The restrictions on hold luggage mean that anything that cannot be taken into the aircraft cabin will be brought back to the UK "by a Government agency and will be returned to you by courier", easyJet told passengers. "We anticipate that to be within the next seven days."

EasyJet and Thomson Airways announced that they will operate nine flights each to the UK tomorrow, including a number of "rescue flights".

Monarch published details of five flights from the Red Sea resort.

Mr Sisi told reporters that British experts had looked at security in Egyptian airports 10 months ago, at the request of London, and found then that they were "good enough".

Speaking alongside Mr Sisi at Number 10, Mr Cameron said the two countries were "working intensively together in a spirit of close co-operation" and that it was "in our mutual interest to address this and get back to normal as soon as possible".

Some British tourists in Sharm have clashed with hotel staff as tensions rise over delayed flights.

Holidaymakers reacted angrily to being charged more money to stay in the resort's hotels.

Emma Smyth, who is staying in the Aqua Blu hotel, about 12 miles from the airport, said the frustrations were starting to boil over.

"Because English people are frustrated and upset, they are taking it out on the staff here, which is not fair," she said.

"One English family, who are obviously upset and concerned, have asked the hotel if they can stay on. The hotel have set a charge and the tourists cannot understand why they are being charged.

"They said they should be allowed to stay and, with that, one man grabbed one of the managers - they ripped his shirt, ripped his name-badge off."

Downing Street confirmed that a team of British experts had gone to Sharm el-Sheikh about 10 months ago as part of a long-term approach to assessing security arrangements at the airport.

Mr Cameron's official spokeswoman said the UK had received "good co-operation" from the Egyptian authorities, who addressed concerns raised at that point.

Wednesday's decision to ground flights was a response to "the evolving nature of the threat" rather than an indication that the UK was not satisfied with the measures taken following the earlier visit.

The spokeswoman declined to discuss the precise nature of the security concerns. Asked whether the UK was unhappy with background checks being carried out on baggage handlers, she replied: "Following on from our assessments yesterday, there are a range of options for how we might address security."

She did not rule out the possibility of British personnel directly providing security at the airport, saying only: "There are a range of options being considered."

Britain was keen to ensure the security of passengers at every stage as they pass through the airport and wanted to be confident that planes remained secure between their arrival and departure from the airport.

British Airways and Thomas Cook have also confirmed they will be resuming flights tomorrow.

A Thomas Cook spokesman said: "The two flights originally scheduled to depart the UK on Thursday 5 November are now set to operate on Friday 6 November.

"Departure times for these will be announced as soon as possible."

Both airlines confirmed they will be operating under the strict luggage regulations banning any bags from being placed in the hold.

A spokesman for British Airways said: "Following the lifting of the Government's restrictions on flights from Sharm el-Sheikh, we will be flying customers back to Gatwick tomorrow on the delayed BA2561 service."

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin confirmed hold luggage was "one of the big concerns we had" about security.

He said: "We have reassured ourselves about the way in which Sharm is operating, but we have put in place separate measures as far as people not returning with all their luggage.

"That will be returned separately and that will be repatriated to them in due course. What we want to do tomorrow is to see as many people come home who want to come home, and for them to be safe to do so.

"But there will be no storage in the plane, in the hold."

Asked why it was necessary to leave the hold empty he said: "It's one of the big concerns we had. Without going into too much of the information that we have received and had before, we think this is one of the ways of making sure the people who are returning are safe."

Mr McLoughlin indicated that although the airport was inspected 10 months ago, different measures were needed now.

"Just because something was seen to be OK 10 months ago doesn't mean to say it's the same today and doesn't mean to say that we don't need to see changes that perhaps we didn't need to see 10 months ago."

The Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) said h olidaymakers in Sharm el-Sheikh who are waiting to return home are advised to contact their tour operator or airline.

Should they wish to return earlier than their scheduled departure date they should contact their airline or tour operator for their options, with priority given to passengers who have had their travel plans disrupted.

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