Sharm el-Sheikh Q&A: Your travel questions answered as Russian plane crash investigation continues

At the end of an extraordinary week for British holidaymakers and the travel industry, thousands of travellers face confusion and uncertainty. Simon Calder, our travel correspondent, answers some of the emails and tweets that arrived on Saturday

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Saturday 07 November 2015 17:21 GMT
Passengers may have to fly home without their luggage
Passengers may have to fly home without their luggage (AP)

My son and his girlfriend are due to fly back from Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday. If they don’t fly back on Monday do they need to extend their travel insurance as its single travel policy. Also, will this cover their luggage as they are not allowed to bring it back?

Standard travel-insurance policies offer extended cover if, for reasons beyond the holidaymaker’s control, the holder is unable to travel home as planned. As far as I am aware no policy offers explicit cover for “loss or damage to baggage that HM Government ordered to be left behind and shipped separately”. But in the unlikely event of harm coming to their luggage, it is likely that a reasonable travel insurer would be sympathetic to a claim.

Why has no-one asked these tourists why they ignored the Foreign Office advice not to travel to the South Sinai area?

The British tourists in Sharm el-Sheikh were in the only part of the South Sinai the Foreign Office deems safe to visit. The FCO exception applies to "the area within the Sharm el-Sheikh perimeter barrier, which includes the airport and the areas of Sharm el-Maya, Hadaba, Naama Bay, Sharks Bay and Nabq."

The change that took place on Wednesday was triggered by the likelihood the Russian plane was downed by a bomb placed in the hold at Sharm el-Sheikh airport.

The Foreign Office warns against "all but essential travel by air to or from Sharm el Sheikh,” except for flights operated under the supervision of British security experts. But the Foreign Office stresses: “We are not raising the threat level in the resort. The above advice applies only to air travel to and from Sharm el-Sheikh."

You can read the full bulletin here

Passengers stranded at Sharm el-Sheikh airport

Why don’t they fly holidaymakers home from Ovda airport, across the Israeli border near Eilat? No security issues there.

The issues involved in safely transporting 400 busloads of British tourists across a frontier as tightly controlled as the frontier between Taba in Egypt and Eilat in Israel would present even more complications than the present arrangements.

Who pays for the additional hotel costs people are incurring because they cannot return home on time? I imagine that the costs to families could be considerable.

All UK passengers in Sharm el-Sheikh are protected. Airlines from the European Union whose flights are disrupted have a duty of care to provide accommodation and meals to passengers until they can be taken to their destination. They are obliged to do this regardless of the cause and length of the delay.

All the airlines flying between the UK and Egypt are British, and therefore these rules apply to them.

Some holidaymakers have reported that the system has not worked as it should; they need to keep receipts and claim reasonable expenses back from the airline. (This does not apply to alcoholic drinks.)

Will passengers get EU compensation because of the delays and cancellations?

No, because these are "extraordinary circumstances," the only grounds the airlines have for refusing compensation. it is conceivable that other people’s flights might be disrupted because of the Sharm el-Sheikh rescue effort. In that case, a claim for compensation might be feasible - though if the airline could demonstrate its difficulties then it would be unlikely to find much judicial (or public) sympathy.

How much is this all costing - and who pays?

The airlines are bearing the cost of customer care, and for operating extra flights. At present the total extra cost is between £3 million and £5 million, which will increase until all the holidaymakers are brought home.

It appears that the UK Government - in other words, the taxpayer - will meet the cost of bringing luggage home.

What are the holiday companies doing about forward bookings?

Tour operators and airlines are mostly focussed on getting people home from Sharm el-Sheikh. No flights will operate until at least 13 November.

Travel firms will address what happens to forward plans early next week. Thomas Cook’s view is common. It says: "Booking conditions remain as normal for travel after 12 November, pending further FCO advice. However, we will be providing a further update regarding travel from Friday 13 November on the afternoon of Monday 9 November."

We should have been going to Egypt at Christmas but obviously now want to change. First Choice want £50 per head to change. Are they within their rights to do this as the situation is beyond our control?

At the risk of sounding harsh, if the security issues at the resort’s airport are resolved to the satisfaction of the Foreign Office, then nothing material has changed in the circumstances that prevailed when you booked.

Sharm el-Sheikh remains an excellent place for a Christmas holiday, offering clear blue skies and warm seas. So it is not unreasonable for tour operators to charge a fee for switching to a different destination. However, it is likely that holiday firms and airlines will switch flight capacity to different destinations, and may by early next week offer the chance to transfer without paying a fee - though if it is a more expensive holiday you could be asked to pay more. So you might want to wait a few days to see what happens.

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