SEVERAL major airlines have no spare seats to bring UK passengers home from Spain this week, it has been claimed.
Consumer group Which? said travellers wanting to leave the UK’s most popular holiday destination before it closes hotels on Thursday night as part of a coronavirus shutdown are unable to book flights with Ryanair, easyJet and Yeadon-based Jet2.
Jet2, which normally has several daily services from Leeds-Bradford Airport to Spain, says because of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advice against all non-essential worldwide travel for a period of 30 days it is ceasing operations.
A statement on its website says: “We’ve therefore suspended our flights and holidays departing from the UK until 30 April 2020. We plan to recommence from 1 May 2020, a decision we’ll keep under constant review.”
Ryanair have also said they are suspending their flights as of today.
CEO Michael O’Leary said: “We have offered our aircraft to all EU governments, both for rescue flights and to operate essential flights for the movement of vital medicines, personal protective equipment and, if necessary emergency food supplies.”
Leeds-Bradford Airport said it was operating normally but only three flights were expected to leave there today and just one is scheduled for Wednesday – KLM to Amsterdam – and two on Thursday – KLM to Amsterdam and British Airways to Heathrow.
The Flight Radar website listed 18 flights that should have departed the airport today.
The FCO is urging all British travellers to return to the UK as soon as possible, warning that further closures to air routes may occur without notice.
Last week Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said as many as almost one million British nationals could be travelling abroad.
Many are at risk of being stranded due to airlines grounding planes because of a drop in demand and an increase in travel restrictions, although British airlines are operating some rescue flights.
Which? advised passengers not to accept a refund from their airline if their flight is cancelled and they still need to get home, as that means the carrier is no longer responsible for re-routing them.
Britons are stranded in countries around the world, including Peru, which closed its borders for at least 15 days from March 16.
The FCO has said it is working with the Peruvian authorities to organise “several repatriation flights”.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel magazine, said: “While it’s right British travellers are being urged to return to the UK, the reality is that there are now thousands of UK residents stranded in dozens of different destinations with no means to get back.
“The Government must improve its communication and provide British citizens fearful of being stranded abroad with useful advice.
“Where scheduled services have been withdrawn, it should leave no stone unturned to get these people on flights home.”
Airline companies could begin “winding down” and laying off staff this week unless promised Government support for the industry is delivered quickly, a trade union has warned.
The British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) said the UK’s aviation industry is at risk of “collapse” while it waits for assistance from the Government to alleviate the pandemic impactc.
Balpa general secretary Brian Strutton said the aviation sector had been “hit first and hardest” by the Covid-19 outbreak, which has led to a downturn in air travel.
He said in a statement: “It’s disgraceful that the Government keeps promising to help but is still sitting on its hands while airlines are shutting down.
“Airlines can’t survive with no revenue coming in and are already cutting wages and jobs.
“Unfortunately the rescue packages put together yesterday are not ready yet but airlines are in crisis now and need help immediately.”
Mr Strutton said state investment in UK airlines is “essential as a matter of urgency before it’s too late”.
The union claimed that airline companies will be “winding down next week” before the Government support scheme is ready.