Q I have relatives in Sharm el-Sheikh who are supposed to be flying home. What is happening there?
In an unprecedented move, the Foreign Office has updated itstravel advice for Egypt to warn against “all but essential travel by air to or from Sharm el-Sheikh”. It has instructed UK airlines not to fly to or from the resort’s airport. Crucially, though, the FCO says: “We are not raising the threat level in the resort. The above advice applies only to air travel to and from Sharm el-Sheikh. Carriers will not be permitted to fly from Sharm el-Sheikh until we are satisfied that it is safe for them to do so.”
Therefore the position of holidaymakers in Sharm el-Sheikh is the opposite of the situation that prevailed in Tunisia following the massacre in Sousse in June, in which 38 people died. In that case, the UK Government deemed it not safe to be in the country, but allowed – indeed encouraged – airlines to fly rescue flights into the country. The Sharm el-Sheikh area is deemed to be safe, but the airport is regarded as unsafe.
Q What are they worried about?
Intelligence officials believe there is a high probability that the Russian jet was downed by a bomb placed aboard at the departure airport, Sharm el-Sheikh. The security team are looking at the passenger-screening process and baggage handling procedures, and assessing the effectiveness of background checks on airport staff.
Q If holidaymakers can’t fly from Sharm el-Sheikh, how will they get back?
There has been some talk that holidaymakers could be bussed to Cairo and flown home from there, because the Egyptian capital’s airport is regarded as safe. That, though, would itself present risks because the nation’s roads are much more dangerous than the UK’s. Dangers also apply to the route across the border from Sinai into the Israeli resort of Eilat.
Instead, British security officials in Sharm el-Sheikh are believed to be putting together a secondary operation to screen passengers and their baggage, and to protect UK aircraft at the airport from interference. The FCO hopes these measures will “permit travellers in Sharm el Sheikh to return by air, whether as scheduled at the end of their stay or before that if they wish”. It advises holidaymakers to “contact their tour operators or carriers to arrange an orderly departure”.
It seems likely that flights will be operating as early as Friday, 6 November. The aircraft currently on the ground will fly home with their expected payload of customers, while extra departures will be laid on for the large number of passengers whose flights failed to operate on Thursday.
Meanwhile, accommodation and meals are being provided in line with the normal EU rules on passenger rights.
Q I am booked to travel to Sharm el Sheikh next week. What are my options?
If you are travelling with the biggest UK tour operators, Thomson and Thomas Cook, on any date up to and including Thursday 12 November then those trips will not be going ahead. You are entitled to choose between either a full refund or an alternative holiday – though if you be warned that it is unlikely that refunds will arrive immediately.
The main scheduled airline flying to Sharm el-Sheikh, easyJet, says it will offer the choice of a refund or an alternative flight to anyone booked to fly to the resort in the next two weeks. Past experience suggests British Airways and Monarch are likely to make similar decisions.
Q Are there many alternative holidays around?
Yes. November is the lowest-season month of the year, and airline seats and hotel rooms are likely to be available in a wide range of destinations. It may also be that the airlines and tour operators switch capacity to the Canaries – the obvious alternative to Sharm el-Sheikh.
Q I am booked to travel to Sharm el-Sheikh at Christmas/New Year. What are my options?
At this stage, normal cancellation conditions apply. You could cancel, but you are likely to lose some or all of your money. If, however, you have booked a package holiday then you are entitled to transfer it to someone else on payment of a reasonable fee to the tour operator.
The same applies to holidays anywhere else, for example Turkey, unless or until the Foreign Office warns against travel.
Q What about flights to Hurghada and Cairo?
These are continuing as planned, and normal conditions apply.
Q The Foreign Office is warning of a high threat of terrorism in Egypt, Can I claim from my travel insurance?
No. The FCO has the same warning in effect for a wide range of countries. Cancelling because of “disinclination to travel” is not grounds for an insurance claim.