Everyone can sympathise with the frustration felt by thousands of British tourists stuck in Egypt over the tortoise-like arrangements being made to fly them home – misery compounded by envy of the fast-track arrangements that Russia has put in place for its own stranded holidaymakers.
Only about eight flights a day are going from Sharm el-Sheikh to the UK, compared with more than 20 to Russia, which ferried home more than 11,000 people in 24 hours. By contrast, Britain flew home just over 1,400 tourists on Friday before upping the number to about 2,000 on Saturday. As last Wednesday’s decision to suspend flights trapped about 20,000 Britons in the Red Sea resort, it could take most of this week to clear the backlog – a nightmare for those at the end of the queue, who will not forget this holiday, for all the wrong reasons.
A wretchedly slow return to the UK is better than an unsafe one, however, and we should not see Russia as some sort of role model. It has many more tourists to get out, for one thing – about 80,000. It looks impressive that it evacuated 11,000 people in two days but that was largely down to the fact that its snug relationship with the government in Cairo secured it a good deal with the Egyptian authorities in terms of the number of flights it can make in and out of Sharm each day.
Britain can expect no such favours from a government still furious with it for being the first to raise suspicions about a terrorist attack on the downed flight over Sinai last month, which has dealt its tourist industry a major blow. Trapped holidaymakers may wonder why more planes are not landing but UK airlines cannot arbitrarily fly into Sharm without permission to land.
It is also worth remembering that Russia initially bristled when Britain said a bomb may have brought down the Airbus flight to St Petersburg. As usual, Moscow acted as if this were a spoiler, before playing catch-up and also suspending flights on Friday.
Many others called David Cameron’s decision to suspend flights alarmist. It now looks as if he made the right call. We have since learnt how lax and corrupt the security procedures were at Sharm – and what a prime target it had become for Islamist terrorists. Whatever the investigations into last week’s crash conclude, a disaster was waiting to happen there. It may take a while to get everyone out of the airport securely, but they have no alternative but to wait.
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