Sharm el-Sheikh package holidays 'may be off until July'
Russian Plane Crash
Package holidays to Sharm el-Sheikh may not resume until next July unless tour operators receive assurances that its airport is secure from infiltration by jihadists.
Travel companies have warned that if a verdict on the safety of Sharm el-Sheikh airport is not reached by the end of this month, they will need to divert next season’s flights to other destinations.
That would leave travellers unable to visit a popular sun spot and strike a major blow to the Egyptian economy, which relies heavily on tourism.
It is unlikely the UK government will be able to reach a decision by the travel industry’s end-of-November deadline, and Philip Hammond, the UK Foreign Secretary, has said that flights may remain suspended until Christmas.
The uncertainty is fuelled by the fact that Egypt’s authorities have still not established whether or not an operative of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) smuggled a bomb on to the Russian airliner that crashed nine days ago, killing all 224 aboard.
Investigators have reportedly interrogated 18 airport managers and workers but have made no arrests and still do not know if there is a mole among the staff.
Eight British flights left yesterday carrying around 2,000 passengers. Some 15,000 Britons are still in the resort, of which 3,000 were supposed to be home already.
Relatively small numbers of Irish are believed to be at the resort, with summer package holiday programmes having ended the week before the crash.
Falcon, Thomson and Red Sea Holidays are still selling packages for their winter programmes, which begin on December 24 and January 1, but are monitoring the situation closely.
The British airlift is dwarfed by the Russian repatriation, which is seeing more than 20 flights taking 4,800 passengers out of Sharm el-Sheikh every day.
John Casson, Britain’s ambassador to Egypt, denied suggestions that Russia’s operations were slowing down the return flights of UK tourists.
Mr Casson added that the UK was confident British travellers could fly safely through other Egyptian airports.
It emerged, meanwhile, that British holiday operators are selling packages to hotels within striking distance of the heartland of the Isil-affiliated group suspected of targeting the Russian airliner.
Websites including lastminute.com are offering holidays to Taba Heights, Egypt, for departures this week, even though the British government has been advising against all but essential travel to areas around the resort since last year.
Three tourists died in a suicide bombing in Taba last year. Hundreds of local civilians and troops have been killed in attacks.
However, Lastminute.com is offering a 10-night break at the Hilton Taba Resort Hotel and British visitors are known to currently be at the resort.
Recent reviews of Taba written by British tourists on TripAdvisor suggest they had no idea that it was in a danger zone.
One, Mike C from Chester, who stayed in April this year, said that “UK airlines don’t fly to Taba for some reason any more, so you get a bus or taxi from Sharm which can add to the occasion.”
Eight more flights are expected to leave Sharm el-Sheikh today to bring home British holidaymakers.
Tourists flying home at the weekend complained that there was still chaos at Sharm el-Sheikh airport.
Marc Standen, 28, a car salesman from Westgate, Kent, said: “They did a semi-pat down inside and we took our shoes off. I don’t think it was very thorough. Their security is terrible and they are completely overwhelmed.”
Bags taken on board were not checked adequately, he said, and at one point around 400 people tried to squeeze through two glass doors to get to a final security check, leaving some hurt as they got trampled.
He added: “We have left our two bags behind in a pile in the middle of the terminal, and I honestly don’t know if we will see them again.”