Travel firms criticised as repatriation of British holidaymakers begins from Rhodes

Stranded Britons accuse tour operators of ‘abandoning’ them amid raging wildfires

Evacuated tourists sleep on floor in temporary accommodation in Greece
Evacuated holidaymakers slept in the Venetokleio sports hall in Rhodes
(Image credit: Damianidis Eleftherios/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Some UK airlines are continuing to sell flights to Rhodes, even as travel companies struggle to repatriate thousands of evacuated tourists while flames ravage the Greek island.

One woman told The Telegraph that she had “repeatedly asked” if her family needed to evacuate, but was told to stay where she was on Rhodes. As the fire approached, “the Jet2 rep and the staff just ran out of the hotel and left us there”, she said. Running from the flames with her 11-year-old daughter, she thought that they were “not going to make it”.

Holidaymakers complained of being “abandoned by travel reps”, said LBC, “with nowhere to go and without transportation”, or sleeping in schools or on airport floors with no food and water. Some operators “failed to contact British families who were left walking up to 12 hours in heat of almost 40C on Rhodes”, the site said.

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“That is a deplorable state of affairs,” Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell told LBC’s programme “Nick Ferrari at Breakfast”. “We will be investigating all of that.” However, “virtually all” holiday companies have “sprung into action in the proper way”, he said.

Jet2, the UK’s biggest tour operator, and holiday firm Tui both said on Sunday that they were cancelling all flights and holidays to Rhodes and offering refunds. Both are sending empty planes from the UK to pick up British holidaymakers, thought to be about 10,000 people.

But British Airways and easyJet are continuing to offer seats on flights to Rhodes, said The Independent’s Simon Calder, even as easyJet is planning to run three repatriation flights back to the UK for those forced to flee their hotels. Ryanair said it was operating as normal in relation to Rhodes.

Only about 10% of Rhodes is affected by the wildfires, said Mitchell, and Rhodes airport is not in any immediate danger, so airlines are “entitled to operate a ‘business as usual policy’”, Calder said, “but most are expected to provide some options to customers”.

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Harriet Marsden is a writer for The Week, mostly covering UK and global news and politics. Before joining the site, she was a freelance journalist for seven years, specialising in social affairs, gender equality and culture. She worked for The Guardian, The Times and The Independent, and regularly contributed articles to The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The New Statesman, Tortoise Media and Metro, as well as appearing on BBC Radio London, Times Radio and “Woman’s Hour”. She has a master’s in international journalism from City University, London, and was awarded the "journalist-at-large" fellowship by the Local Trust charity in 2021.