BA steps in to help tourists stranded in Greece

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Stranded British holidaymakers who thought they faced even more delays in Greece were heartened yesterday when British Airways promised to fly them home for pounds 50.

Hundreds of independent travellers and backpackers were stranded on Greek islands because of a four-day ferry strike which left many of them with expired flight tickets. They thought they faced more misery by having to fork out pounds 250 for scheduled flights home.

"We have three flights a day out of Athens with a total capacity of 650 seats, and some of those are empty because some of our customers got stuck too," said a BA spokeswoman. "We thought we could help get people back by using those seats.

"Obviously, it's going to cost us some money, but we thought it was only fair to help out where we could."

About 20 travellers took advantage of the BA offer on day one, arriving back at Heathrow last night, but the company said it expected numbers to increase as people returned to Athens from outlying islands. Package holidaymakers, who almost always fly to the island of their choice, are unaffected.

The Foreign Office said its embassy had received "hardly any" calls for help. A spokesman said all airlines and travel agents had adopted a sympathetic approach to stranded tourists.

There were conflicting reports over the prospect of fresh industrial action by the Greek seamen later in the summer. The Association of British Travel Agents said it had been told the seamen had resolved their dispute, over pension rights and promised not to strike for the rest of the season. But the Foreign Office said differences remained and there had been unofficial reports that there might be another strike in a month.