Holiday firms TUI and Jet2 have cancelled all flights to Rhodes as the popular holiday destination has been gripped by wildfires, forcing thousands of tourists to flee in what is now the biggest fire evacuation in Greek history.
Jet2 said it will fly aircraft which are scheduled to go out without any passengers on board in order to bring people home, as Brits rush to the island’s airport to escape the devastating fires.
The package holiday provider said it will not be running any flights until at least Wednesday, while TUI has said it is also cancelling all booked holidays for the next several days.
Thomas Cook has also cancelled all holidays to the areas worst affected by the forest fires, such as Kiotari and Lardos, until July 31.
Meanwhile, airline giants EasyJet and Ryanair have said their flights are still operating flights to the country ‘as normal’ – but near-empty planes suggest travellers are staying away.
Thousands have been left stranded in makeshift evacuation camps and families have been pictured sleeping on the airport floor they wait for information on how to escape the scorched island.
An almost empty flight to Rhodes. EasyJet and Ryanair are still allowing Brits to travel to the fire-ravaged island
People are sleeping on the floor in the airport and at evacuation centres as they flee the fires
Tourists play cards as they wait in the airport’s departure hall as evacuations are underway due to wildfires, on the Greek island of Rhodes
Tourists wait in the airport’s departure hall as evacuations are underway due to wildfires
Tourists are sheltered in a sports hall after being evacuated following a wildfire on the island of Rhodes, Greece
Tourists are sheltered in a stadium after being evacuated following a wildfire on the island of Rhodes
Tourists who want to leave the island are desperately making their way to its airport, with empty flights being sent in to get Brits out
Holidaymakers have been left infuriated that planes still packed with Brits have been able to depart for the scorched island.
EasyJet flights out to Rhodes today showed just a handful of travellers had decided to still make the journey.
While the airline says it is still operating flights ‘as normal’, it added that it is ‘monitoring the situation’.
Can I get a refund?
Planning to travel to Rhodes
If you are a Jet2 customer, the company whose flight has been cancelled, the company has said it will contact all those affected.
TUI customers due to fly out to Rhodes on Wednesday have been told they can rebook or cancel free of charge.
‘If you have been notified that your holiday which is due to depart in the next few days has been cancelled, then your travel company will be able to discuss your options with you – that could be offering a full refund or they might be able to discuss an alternative holiday,’ said Emma Brennan, a spokesperson for the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA).
Travellers in Rhodes
As the UK foreign office has stopped short of advising people against travelling to Rhodes, it is slightly more difficult for those who are on holiday there to seek compensation.
Holidaymakers are only guaranteed compensation through travel insurance if the government advises against travel there.
‘The primary purpose of travel insurance is to cover the costs of emergency medical treatments or repatriation should the worst happen, which can run into the tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds,’ a spokesperson for the Association of British Insurers (ABI) told Sky News.
‘It can cover you if you need to cancel or cut short your holiday, but it’s likely this will only be under limited circumstances, for example if you or a close family member fall ill, not because of a disinclination to travel.
‘Insurance can cover you if advice from the government changes since you’ve booked your trip, and it’s no longer considered safe to travel to the destination.’
They added that those booked to travel to or from Rhodes will be able to transfer to another date or request a flight voucher up to next Saturday.
The company also said it has cancelled its package holidays to the island until Tuesday.
British Airways says it has told customers on the island they can move their flights free of charge.
Travel agent Thomas Cook has cancelled all holidays to areas of Rhodes which have been worst hit by the wildfires until July 31.
The firm announced it had been in touch will all customers due to travel to these areas today or tomorrow and said they would arrange “swift refunds”.
It will also be offering full refunds to customers due to depart to other parts of the island on Sunday and Monday.
Ryanair meanwhile said flights were ‘currently operating as normal and unaffected by the forest fires’.
Greece has issued warnings over ‘extreme fire risks’ in the areas of Attica, Evia, Boeotia, Corinthia, Ilia, Argolis, Messinia and Rhodes.
The Ministry of Climate Change and Civil Protection said it was ‘the largest evacuation from a wildfire in the country.’
So far, the total number of people evacuated or redirected due to the fires has reached 19,000, according to the Greek government.
Of that number, 16,000 people were evacuated by land and 3,000 by sea.
A spokesperson told Sky News: ‘It has been the largest evacuation ever [In Greece] in a fire with coordinated mobilisation of all resources.’
As resorts have reportedly been engulfed by flames, sports halls, schools and hotels which are away from the worst of the fires have been turned into refuge centres.
Thousands of tourists have been forced to camp on futons and deck chair cushions in halls without aircon and even outside in the baking heat.
Newlywed Andrew Brittan, 27, and his wife Emily, traveled from Birmingham to Rhodes for their honeymoon yesterday, unaware that it would become a holiday from hell.
‘The first night of my honeymoon was spent on a mattress outside,’ he told MailOnline from a packed refuge centre.
Generous locals have been donating mattresses, water and fruit and snacks to the terrified stranded tourists.
As holiday providers are rushing to get Brits out of the fire-ravaged island, Jet2 says: ‘We ask any customers in affected areas to follow the advice of the local authorities, or their hoteliers who will be acting under the advice of the authorities.
TUI has said it is cancelling all booked holidays to Rhodes for the next several days
Jet2 said it will fly aircraft which are scheduled to go out without any passengers on board in order to bring people home
Flames rise during a forest fire on the island of Rhodes, Greece
A satellite image shows the devastation caused by the wildfires on the charred Greek island
Brits crammed in a hotel away from the fires have been forced to sleep on sun lounger cushions outside as they flee the fires
Smoke rises into the sky as wildfires head towards the Princess Sun Hotel in Rhodes
‘Those due to travel will receive a full refund and an opportunity to rebook, the company says.
‘We will fly those five aircraft to Rhodes with no customers onboard, so that we can bring customers back to the UK on their scheduled flight.’
Easyjet said in a statement: ‘We are currently operating as normal to Rhodes however we continue to closely monitor the situation. We advise customers travelling to and from Rhodes to check the status of their flights on Flight Tracker.
‘Easyjet is currently working to comply with requests of the local authorities, and is in contact with customers in resort to support them. The safety and wellbeing of our customers and crew is our highest priority.’
They added that any customers who are booked to travel to or from the island until 29 July can transfer for free to another date or can request a flight voucher.
TUI spokesperson Linda Jonczyk told AFP: ‘Until Tuesday, no more new tourists will be flown’, adding that empty planes were still being flown in to help evacuate the thousands of tourists affected.
Will Rhodes tourists get compensation?
Consumer charity Which? has said it it would be ‘unconscionable’ for airlines not to refund tourists who decide against flying to fire-ravaged Rhodes.
The comments by Which? Travel editor Rory Boland came after easyJet confirmed it was operating flights to the Greek island as normal, while fellow travel firms Jet2 and Tui suspended their trips and refunded their customers.
He encouraged more airlines to be ‘flexible’ should customers decide not to travel due to the six-day blaze.
Mr Boland said: ‘It’s likely that those who are due to go to Rhodes now won’t want to go, and given the emergency operations that are taking place on the island, local authorities could probably do without more tourists arriving.
‘While there is no official Foreign Office advice against travel to Rhodes, it would be unconscionable for holiday companies to cash in on travellers’ sensible decision not to travel by not refunding or rebooking them.’
Meanwhile, an expert warned that tourists whose holidays are disrupted by the blaze or those who choose not to travel are ‘unlikely’ to be covered by their travel insurance.
Louise Clark, policy advisor at the Association of British Insurers, said: ‘Travel insurance is primarily to protect you against what can be incredibly high costs of needing emergency medical treatment overseas, but is unlikely to provide cover if you’re unable to go outside on your holiday because of a wildfire.
‘The primary purpose of travel insurance is to cover the costs of emergency medical treatments or repatriation should the worst happen, which can run into the tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds.
‘It can cover you if you need to cancel or cut short your holiday but it’s likely this will only be under limited circumstances, for example if you or a close family member fall ill, not because of a disinclination to travel.’
Ms Clark added that some insurers provide ‘add-ons’ available to customers at the time they buy their policy which do protect against natural disasters.