Britain’s biggest travel company, Tui, is sending a rescue plane to Colombo to bring all its customers back from Sri Lanka.
In the wake of the Easter Sunday terror attacks which killed hundreds of local people and tourists, the Foreign Office has warned against “all but essential travel” to the Indian Ocean island. The decision places Sri Lanka in the same category as North Korea, Venezuela and much of Iraq.
When Tunisia and the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh were placed on the FCO’s “no-go” list in 2015, airlifts were organised to bring British travellers home.
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Instead, the estimated 8,000 UK citizens on holiday in Sri Lanka have simply been advised that they should leave in a timely fashion by commercial means – in other words, flying from Colombo.
But Tui is despatching a Boeing 787 Dreamliner to the island to bring home all its customers – who are believed to number fewer than 200.
The plane will fly from Colombo to Gatwick on Saturday.
In addition, Tui has cancelled all excursions from its resorts on Friday.
A spokesperson for Tui said: “We have started to contact customers in resort to confirm a new flight time and will be providing pro-rata refunds for the number of holiday days missed.”
Many people with holidays booked to Sri Lanka have contacted The Independent with concerns about their planned journeys.
When the Foreign Office warns against travel to a location, the typical pattern is “rolling cancellations” – with all departures up to a date several weeks ahead grounded.
This is what Tui has done. The company says: “Customers who are due to travel before 12 May will be offered the opportunity to amend their booking to another destination or receive a full refund.”
The choice between a refund and an alternative holiday is the customer’s.
Tui has also stopped selling holidays to Sri Lanka for the time being.
When the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, announced the ban, he said: “We all hope the situation will return to normal very soon, and that the Sri Lankan tourism industry is able to get back on its feet following the terrorist attacks.”
But recent history suggests that the ban could last for months or years. British airlines are still banned from flying to the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh, three-and-a-half years after the UK government said it was unhappy with security standards at the airport.
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