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Holidaymakers struggle to get home amid coronavirus shutdowns

Travellers have accused airlines of leaving them stranded and demanding extortionate fees.

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Spain will close all hotels from March 24 (Lauren Hurley/PA)

Spain will close all hotels from March 24 (Lauren Hurley/PA)

Spain will close all hotels from March 24 (Lauren Hurley/PA)

Thousands of UK holidaymakers face a race against time to return home before countries around the world shut down due to the coronavirus.

Travellers in Morocco accused airlines of leaving them stranded and demanding extortionate fees.

Thomas Reilly, the British ambassador to Morocco, said “we are trying to get as many flights in as we can” before the country’s airspace closes at midnight on Thursday.

In response to a holidaymaker who sent him a Twitter message complaining that Ryanair was charging £300 for a flight back to the UK, he replied: “Buy the tickets. Get out of the country. Claim on your insurance. Do not delay.”

Tom Widdall, who is in Morocco with his heavily pregnant girlfriend, was due to fly home from Agadir to Manchester on Saturday, but his easyJet flight was cancelled.

He said he has been unable to get on to an earlier flight and claimed he has been “abandoned by easyJet and abandoned by the embassy”.

EasyJet told passengers it is “doing all we can to assist”.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advised travellers in Spain to return home before March 24 as its government has ordered all hotels to close from that date.

Dave Cook, 36, from Edinburgh, was stranded in Japan after his KLM flight home on Friday was cancelled.

He told the PA news agency he felt “left in the dark” by his travel firm lastminute.com and had bought a new flight for more than £1,100.

“I’m a contractor so don’t get holiday pay, so I had to err on the side of caution in case we couldn’t get a flight for a while,” he said.

Mr Cook added that the British embassy told him, “We’re not doing flights for people. You have to speak with your airline or travel agent”.

He described this approach as “blunt and uncaring”.

Author Clare Josa, 46, of Sussex, is struggling to return to the UK from South Africa with her 12-year-old son.

She said British Airways initially wanted £12,000 for them to switch to an earlier flight.

Airlines must stop cashing in on the misfortune of their customers and prioritise getting them home safely ... Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel

It later waived that fee, but there were no spare seats, forcing the pair to hope their flight on Friday is not among the many thousands being cancelled.

Ms Josa said: “With my husband and other sons at home in the UK, it is extremely stressful, not knowing how or when we might get home, and with zero support from the FCO.”

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “Airlines must stop cashing in on the misfortune of their customers and prioritise getting them home safely – going above and beyond their legal obligations where necessary.

“The Government must also up its game and provide British citizens fearful of being stranded abroad with useful advice.

“Where scheduled services have been withdrawn, it should explore all options to get these people on flights home.”

An FCO spokesman said: “We recognise that any British people currently overseas may be nervous about the impact of coronavirus on their travel and their health.

“We are in close contact with travel providers and our international partners to provide support to those British people affected by ongoing measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.”

PA