Sharm El Sheikh Q&A: What's happening at the Egyptian resort?
As 'rescue flights' commence from Sharm El Sheikh, Pól Ó Conghaile rounds up the latest advice for travellers.
What's the story?
The airlifting of thousands of UK tourists stranded in Sharm El Sheikh continues, despite chaos after 'rescue' flights appear to have been restricted by Egyptian authorities.
Rescue flights are being operated by easyJet, Thomson, BA and Monarch. Just eight of 29 flights planned to repatriate British tourists took off Friday.
Confusion reigns as to which flights will or will not depart Saturday - and that's not even starting on efforts to airlift 40,000-70,000 Russian tourists.
Repatriation efforts are following the UK government and Irish Aviation Authority's (IAA) direction that their airlines avoid the Sinai Peninsula following the crash of a Russian plane there last weekend. Russia has also now halted flights.
Russian MetroJet Flight 9268 crashed over the Sinai Peninsula last Saturday following a "sudden and unexpected situation", killing 224 passengers and crew.
No cause has yet been identified for the crash, but investigators increasingly appear to believe a bomb was placed on board the aircraft at Sharm El Sheikh airport - Africa's third-busiest.
"The sooner everyone finds out what really happened, the better," says Pat Dawson, CEO of the Irish Travel Agents' Association (ITAA)..
"At the moment it is a no-go area.”
Is Sharm safe to visit?
The Department of Foreign Affairs advises Irish citizens to avoid all non-essential travel to Egypt, but lists the Red Sea holiday resort of Sharm El Sheikh as an exception.
For a brief period on Thursday and Friday, it had removed Sharm from a list of exceptions that include Luxor, Aswan and other Red Sea resorts outside the Sinai peninsula, but has now returned it to that list.
On Wednesday, the IAA directed Irish airline operators not to operate to/from Sharm el‐Sheikh Airport, Egypt or in the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula airspace "until further notice".
The announcement followed a similar "precautionary" move in the UK. Russia, Germany and the Netherlands have also now suspended flights, with France and Belgium advising citizens against all non-essential travel to the Red Sea Resort.
However, the The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office is not raising the threat level in the resort. Its advice "applies only to air travel to and from Sharm el-Sheikh,” it says.
In short, the resort is deemed safe, but air travel to/from is not.
I'm in Sharm El Sheikh. How can I get home?
Relatively few Irish holidaymakers are affected, as tour operators finished their summer schedules last week (see below).
Travellers on package holidays should be looked after by their tour operator, which is legally obliged to get them home and to provide care and assistance in the meantime.
Independent travellers should seek advice from their airlines, which are obliged under EU law to offer refunds or re-routing with care and assistance.
No checked baggage will be accepted on the flights. "This will follow on to your destination airport at a later date," it says.
Hand luggage is still permitted under usual regulations.
Read more: What happens if my flights are cancelled?
Are Irish tour operators still selling packages?
Charter flights from Ireland to Egypt finished last week, and Falcon, Thomson Holidays and Red Sea Holidays have all now ended their summer programmes.
Winter programmes are still set to go ahead from December 24, however.
Going to press, Falcon Holidays (falconholidays.com) had an all-inclusive, seven-night package with 3-star accommodation departing January 16 from €499pp.
Red Sea Holidays (redseaholidays.ie), which starts its winter programme on January 1, has a week all-inclusive at the 5-star Grand Hotel priced from €690pp on January 29.
“At present refunds are not being offered for customers booked to depart in 2016," said Red Sea Holidays General Manager, Niall McDonnell.
Falcon, Thomson and Red Sea Holidays are all "closely monitoring" the situation and say they will keep websites up to date with the latest travel information.
Hasn't Sharm had other problems?
Sharm El Sheikh has a troubled history as a tourist resort.
The resort was hit by terrorist attacks in 2005 that killed 88 people and wounded over 200, making them the deadliest in Egypt's history.
In 2010, a series of shark attacks injured several swimmers and closed beaches for over a week after a German woman was killed while snorkelling.
In 2014, security threats saw the resort's withdrawal from Irish holiday brochures, though packages resumed after the DFA downgraded its travel alert.
The fact that the latest air disaster comes just months after a terrorist attack that left 38 dead in Tunisia will further fuel concerns about North African travel.
The vast majority of visits remain incident-free, however.
Indeed, one of the first things tourists to Sharm El Sheikh will notice are its armed tourist police. Together with vehicle checks and CCTV, they have created a ring of steel on the Sinai Peninsula, reflecting its value as a cash cow for Egyptian tourism.
What about travel in Egypt outside the resort?
"Irish citizens are advised to avoid-non-essential travel to Egypt at this time due to a heightened threat of terrorist incidents, including targeted attacks against foreigners, and a continuing threat of civil unrest," the DFA says.
The following exceptions apply: Sharm El Sheikh, Luxor, Aswan and Abu Simbel (including cruises between them); the Red Sea coastal resort of Hurghada and other Red Sea resorts outside the Sinai peninsula, where Irish citizens are advised to exercise caution and arrive and depart by air.
What if I cancel my holiday?
Strictly speaking, if you cancel your holiday without the DFA declaring travel to be unsafe, it could be deemed "disinclination to travel". As such, you may have to give up your deposit, pay a cancellation fee or forfeit some or all of the cost.
If your tour operator cancels, however, you will be entitled to a refund or replacement holiday.
Will my travel insurance cover a cancellation?
Having the appropriate travel insurance in place can defray these costs... but you need to check the small print in your policy.
If the DFA declares travel to Sharm to be unsafe, you will be entitled to a full refund. You are unlikely to claim successfully if you are simply nervous about travel, however.
NB: This story is being updated to reflect developments.
Read more:Air Disasters: Why do we still rely on black boxes? Egypt: Niamh Horan feels the fear and visits anyway Is it still safe to fly?