March 31, 2020

U.K. Government Announces Plan to Fly Back British Nationals Stranded Abroad During Coronavirus Pandemic

The United Kingdom (U.K.) Government has announced a new partnership with airlines to return to the U.K. tourists and other British nationals who are stranded overseas due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The plan consists of two parts. The first part is for people overseas to take any commercial flights that are still available. Where commercial flights are no longer available, a special programme of chartered flights using a dedicated £75 million government fund will be set up.

Commercial flights

Under the new plan, airlines that register are to recognise their responsibility for transporting their passengers with pre-booked tickets back to the U.K., even if the original routing is cancelled. They will have to offer their passengers alternative routes where possible including allowing their passengers to change their tickets, even between carriers. As the situation develops and changes, the airlines will have to work with their passengers to keep them informed and updated as needed.

Charter flights

If a commercial route does not exist, or it is no longer possible for the route to fly, the U.K. Government will spend up to £75 million on special charter flights to fly to priority countries and bring back U.K. residents.

The charter flight routes will be prioritised based on the number of stranded British travellers and their vulnerability, which would include an assessment of the local health care availability. The ability for flights to land and the ability of travellers to move around the country to get to the flights will also be factors.

Passengers on these special charter flights will still have to pay for a ticket. However, the £75 million is to be used to subsidise the flights to ensure that the tickets are affordable. Travellers who want a seat on these flights will book and pay directly through a dedicated travel management company, which will be announced in due course.

The Government has said that they already have charter flights up and running from Ghana and Tunisia. They are going to add more countries soon, such as India and South Africa, because of the number of British travellers located there and the fact that commercial routes are suspended.

How to get help

To be aware of the options, people overseas should regularly check the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) travel advice pages for the country in which they are located. From there, they can sign up for email updates for when the page changes or there is a new update. They should also check regularly the social media pages of the British Embassy or High Commission of their location country so that they see information as it is updated.

The special charter flights, if available, will be advertised on the social media of the relevant Embassy or High Commission and sent out via the email updates. The FCO will also, in very exceptional circumstances (and as a last resort) provide an emergency loan from public funds to assist travellers in coming back to the U.K. This assistance is discretionary and will only be considered if the traveller has exhausted all other methods to obtain funds.

Faegre Drinker’s Coronavirus Resource Center is available to help you understand and assess the legal, regulatory and commercial implications of COVID-19.
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