The UK government is urging Britons to return home if they are still overseas. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced on Monday: “The time to come home is now while you still can.” However, as countries across the world begin to lock their borders and travel services rapidly become suspended, many Britons abroad may be fearful of becoming stranded.
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In a bid to help the nation the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has provided crucial information to help people make their way home in this time of crisis.
The FCO website has issued an urgent warning, saying: “As countries respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including travel and border restrictions, the FCO advises British nationals against all but essential international travel.
“Any country or area may restrict travel without notice.
“If you live in the UK and are currently travelling abroad, you are strongly advised to return now, where and while there are still commercial routes available. Many airlines are suspending flights and many airports are closing, preventing flights from leaving.”
The government has assured it will help Britons get home, but urges them to make their own steps while they can to ensure they are returned to the UK safely.
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Rory Boland, Editor of Which? Travel, said: “The government’s promise that a huge repatriation effort is underway will be good news to many UK residents stuck in increasingly difficult situations abroad who have struggled to get any practical advice or help from the foreign office.
“The problem has been growing for weeks so the government must urgently improve its communications regarding travel advice and make sure it leaves no stone unturned to get these people on flights home.”
Britons in any of the following holiday hotspots should follow the government advice for that region and make immediate plans to return home if that is their intention.
British travellers who are currently in Spain and who wish to return to the UK are advised to make travel plans to do so as soon as possible.
The FCO website explains: “At present, air and maritime borders remain open, but many airlines and ferry companies are operating revised or reduced services.
“Travel to airports to leave Spain is still permitted, but travellers may be asked to provide evidence that they are departing Spain (i.e. plane ticket).”
Travellers can exit Spain via the French border, which will remain open for those heading home. British nationals can still drive through France to return to the UK but will have to carry an “attestation” or declaration explaining why they are outside.
Britons currently in France are subject to new measures brought in my the government on March 16.
The FCO website explains: “This includes confining people to their homes except for outings for specific purposes effective from midday 17 March 2020 for an initial period of 15 days.
“If you live in the UK and are currently travelling abroad, you are strongly advised to return to the UK now.”
It continues: “The availability of transport from France to the UK is subject to change. Many airlines and cross-Channel operators are operating very substantially reduced services for passenger traffic. Passengers should check with their operator before departing, and may still be subject to severe disruption.
“Flights departing from French airports may be cancelled or rescheduled. You should check with your airline for the latest information.”
Britons can still drive home and connect via ferry but may be required to carry an “attestation” or declaration explaining why they are outside.
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“British nationals in Germany who wish to leave should contact their travel operator to make arrangements to do so as soon as possible,” says the FCO website.
“There are now only limited commercial means of leaving Germany to return to the UK by air, from just a few major airports in Germany.”
However, these restrictions could further tighten with little notice.
As Italy is one of the worst affected countries in the world, the majority of carriers have now ceased direct flights between Italy and the UK.
Alitalia continues to operate flights but on a reduced schedule.
“Other airlines have indicated that they will assist British tourists in Italy who have booked travel with them to return to the UK, which may require travel via other countries. Contact your airline as soon as possible,” urges the FCO.
Many surrounding countries have imposed restrictions on people entering from Italy, which may mean travelling home via land is not an option.
Flights are still running to the UK from Portugal, however, airlines have cancelled a number of tours.
The FCO advises: ” If your travel plans are likely to be affected or you want to check on the status of your flight, contact your airline or travel company for the latest information.
“British Nationals who wish to leave the country should make arrangements to do so as soon as possible as transport options to leave Portugal may not be available indefinitely.”
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“The situation is changing rapidly,” says the FCO.
“We recommend that UK nationals who wish to leave check the latest travel advice and the most recent updates from their travel operator before travelling.”
Those wishing to travel home by land through Belgium or France may be subject to each country’s individual lockdown laws.
Britons currently in Poland are advised to make travel plans to get home immediately.
All air transport in Poland has been suspended until midnight on 11 April and may be further extended. Almost all flights to the UK have therefore been suspended until this date. However, there is a lifeline for Britons.
“LOT Polish Airlines are operating a limited number of special flights from Warsaw Chopin Airport to the UK,” reads the FCO Poland advice page.
“To book seats on remaining flights in these exceptional circumstances, LOT Airlines have asked the British Embassy to collect the full name, contact number and email address for each prospective passenger.”
Passengers can submit necessary information via the LOT airlines website.
The FCO continues: “The British Embassy in Warsaw will then pass on those details to LOT, who will contact prospective passengers directly to complete the booking, including confirmation of the flight details, and to take a credit or debit card payment.
“If you are not a British national, please contact your appropriate Embassy in Warsaw.”
Polish authorities may check the temperature of passengers booked onto these special flights and can deny boarding to anyone who is showing symptoms of coronavirus.
The land borders remain open for those leaving Poland at designated land border crossings, though the situation could change rapidly.
Those leaving by road may still pass through Germany to travel home provided they have evidence such as a train, flight or ferry ticket.
The Turkish authorities have imposed a direct flight ban in which those who are from the UK or have transmitted through the UK are not allowed to enter Turkey.
The FCO warns: “Options for leaving Turkey are becoming increasingly limited and if you wish to leave Turkey you should make arrangements to do so as soon as possible.
“As of the 25th March there are no direct repatriation flights scheduled from Turkey to the UK; the last direct repatriation flight left on March 24th. Indirect routes are still operating.
“Given the speed of developments, you should check carefully any transit restrictions or requirements before starting your journey and contact individual airlines to check availability.”
Turkish Airlines is currently operating flights to five locations: Hong Kong, Moscow, Addis Ababa, New York and Washington.
Land crossings with Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Iran and Iraq have also been closed.
The UAE has announced that inbound and outbound flights will stop as of midnight Tuesday 24 March.
The FCO advises: “We know that British travellers in the UAE will have been affected by the recent suspension of flights. The British Embassy is collecting information to help understand how.
“If you are a remaining British traveller and in difficulty, contact the British Embassy on email@example.com. Include your full name, passport number, visa status (resident or tourist), contact details and your particular circumstances.”
However, in the meantime, Britons are urged to continue contacting their airline or tour operator about the possibility of returning home.
This will ensure any demand is logged in the airlines own assumptions about the number of people waiting to return to the UK.
British travellers currently in the US are advised to return to the UK now.
Although international travel is becoming very limited, there are still commercial flights available from the USA to the UK and British travellers currently in the USA will be allowed to leave.
The US is currently denying entry to any Britons.
“The new US travel restrictions are affecting commercial flight schedules to the UK. Many airlines have reduced their transatlantic flight schedules by up to 75 percent,” explains the FCO.
“If you live in the UK and are currently travelling in the US, you are strongly advised to return now, while there are still commercial routes available.”
Transatlantic flights are running from limited airports.
These airports include JFK, New York; LAX, Los Angeles; BOS, Boston; IAD, Washington DX; ORD, Chicago; SEA, Seattle; MIA, Miami; EWR, Newark; and ATL, Atlanta.
Airlines who are still operating flights include American Airlines, British Airways, Delta, United and Virgin Atlantic.
“If there are no longer direct flights available to the UK from your current location, please use airline websites to book connecting flights to cities where flights are available to the UK,” says the FCO.
British nationals currently in Canada who want to return home are strongly advised to do so now.
“Many airlines are suspending flights and many airports are closing, preventing flights from leaving,” warns the FCO.
The only airports now operating international flights are: Toronto Pearson (YYZ); Montreal Pierre Elliott Trudeau (YUL); Calgary International Airport (YYC); and Vancouver International Airport (YVR).
Porter Airlines have suspended all flights, meanwhile WestJet and Air Transit are no longer flying to the UK.
Air Canada and British Airways are offering limited service, but have suspended some routes.
The FCO say: “The situation is liable to change with little or no notice. We will post significant updates on the British High Commission’s UkinCanada Twitter and Facebook accounts, but please contact airlines directly as they will have the most up to date information.
“You can find contact details for airlines still operating on our Facebook and Twitter page, as well as on our website.
“The new travel restrictions are severely limiting commercial flight schedules,” warns the FCO.
“If you are visiting Maldives you should make arrangement to leave while commercial means are available. Speak to your airline or travel company as soon as possible.”
The British High Commission Male’ is frequently updating its Twitter account with the latest information for Britons wishing to leave Maldives.
The FCO also has a warning in place advising Britons against all non-essential travel for 30 days. This will be reassessed on April 15, though could be pushed further into the future.
Mr Raab explained: “UK travellers abroad now face widespread international border restrictions and lockdowns in various countries.
“The FCO will always take into consideration the safety of British nationals so with immediate effect I’ve taken the decision to advise British Nationals against non-essential travel globally for a period of 30 days and of course subject to ongoing review.
“I should emphasise this decision is being taken based on the domestic measures being introduced into the UK alongside the border and a range of other restrictions which are being taken by countries right around the world. The speed and the range of these measures across other countries is unprecedented some of those decisions are being made without notice.
“In some countries or particularly cases where there haven’t yet been any reported cases of COVID-19 local authorities are nonetheless imposing restrictions on movement, and again doing so with little or sometimes no notice whatsoever.
” In light of those circumstances, we want to reduce the risk of leaving vulnerable British travellers or tourists stranded overseas.”
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