With the Coronavirus pandemic putting many airports under temporary lockdown, commercial flights are no longer the feasible way for people to travel home. As a result, thousands of citizens and permanent residents of the UK have been left stranded across the world.
In a bid to get citizens home, the UK High Commission has issued orders for charter rescue flights to be sent to various, critical countries. These flights have been tasked to rescue stranded UK residents from vulnerable nations and bring them back safe.
April brings first wave of UK charter flights
In early March, the UK Government set aside £75 million for the Coronavirus pandemic rescue efforts. These funds were used to finance global repatriation operations.
The first set of charter flights were scheduled to leave for countries which had already closed their borders and had initiated a nation-wide ban on domestic and international travel. These countries, namely, Algeria, India, South Africa and Nepal, were requested to open their borders temporarily to allow entry for UK charter flights on April 2nd 2020.
Around 2,500 travellers registered for this first wave of flights. However, with over 400,000 UK residents holidaying overseas, one wave of charter flights just wasn’t enough.
On April 10th 2020, the UK High Commission issued a directive, scheduling more charter flights to countries like India and South Africa. These nation,s in particular, have seen the highest number of UK visitors this year.
Starting April 13th and ending on April 20th 2020, the UK will send 12 additional charter flights to various cities in India, to rescue citizens. Similarly, on April 16th and April 17th 2020, the UK will fly out three additional rescue flights to South Africa, to bring home stranded residents and their dependents.
Not an inexpensive affair
Although the UK Government has dedicated a hefty sum of money to fund the rescue operations, passengers travelling by these flights were asked to pay for their seats. The rescue flights from Algeria, for example, cost £186 per ticket.
The UK charter flights departing from India, cost between £581 and £681 per adult, depending on the airport of departure. The only saving grace is that the UK is allowing children under the age of 2 to travel free-of-charge. Additionally, the dependents of any UK citizen (irrespective of their nationality) are also allowed to purchase seats on the rescue flights.
However, seats for any traveller will be confirmed only based on the passengers’ vulnerability to the coronavirus infection. Travellers who don’t get confirmed bookings must wait for the next scheduled charter flight.
Many countries still not on the charter list
Although the number of Covid19 cases is increasing across the globe, a few countries still haven’t initiated a full-scale travel ban. Such countries, which include parts of the US, Thailand, Scandinavia, Ireland, Australia, Canada, and Germany, are partially operating a few of their high-traffic routes.
The UK hasn’t issued such countries charter flights. Citizens who are stranded in countries where commercial flights are still operational have been asked to return home using commercial airlines.
Only time will tell whether these countries too shall be added to the UK’s rescue and repatriation list.