Tempers fray as stranded British tourists wait for rescue flights

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Stranded British tourists clashed with hotel staff in Sharm el-Sheikh yesterday amid confusion over when they would be returning home.

The estimated 20,000 Britons stuck in the Egyptian resort were still waiting to find out when they would be flown back to Britain, as the government announced flights would resume today.

Hundreds of tourists who had come to the end of their holidays were told to go to the airport, where they waited hours with no information before being ferried to temporary rooms in other hotels.

The first batch of tourists will return today, after easyJet said it was planning nine British flights — including five specially provided aircraft — to Luton, Gatwick and Stansted. A tenth easyJet flight is bound for Milan.

Monarch said it was operating five planes — three rescue flights and two scheduled services — as part of a plan to bring back 3,000 customers from the Red Sea resort. Thomson was planning seven flights today.

Any passengers flying back will not be allowed checked-in baggage and will be able to bring only hand luggage on the flight. The airlines have said the luggage will follow on a different flight.

A No 10 spokesman said: “We advise British nationals in Sharm to check with their airline or tour operator on their travel plans. The additional security measures will include permitting passengers to carry hand baggage only and transporting hold luggage separately.

“We are working with the airlines to ensure there are suitable arrangements in place to reunite passengers with their belongings as soon as possible.”

BA announced that it would resume flights home from Sharm el-Sheikh “with significant extra security measures”. The airline said the flight due to return to Gatwick today would instead leave tomorrow.

In a further disclosure, most major airlines were suspending all flights to the resort for at least a week. EasyJet, Monarch, Thomson and Thomas Cook said flights to Sharm el-Sheikh had been grounded until next Thursday, pending further advice from the Foreign Office. More than 3,500 British holidaymakers had been due to depart for the Red Sea resort yesterday.

Emma Smyth, 41, who is staying at the resort’s Aqua Blu hotel, said one family responded angrily after being ordered to pay extra to remain in their rooms. “One man grabbed one of the managers,” she said. “They ripped his shirt, ripped his name-badge off and everything. English people are frustrated and upset. They are taking it out on the staff here, which is not fair.”

An argument broke out in the Royal Albatross hotel after staff refused to accept any suggestion that a bomb brought down the Russian airliner.

George Dix, 19, from Norwich, said: “The hotel is quite calm. The only arguments have been when staff dismissed the cause of the plane crash as a bomb. No one will tell us anything. It’s only through the news we are finding out about everything.”

James Marney, from Newton Abbott, Devon, said he was surprised there had not been more security. “Guards, army . . . I would have thought there would have been a lot more. This is serious, they [the Egyptians] are treating it like every other day. I don’t feel safe. A major aircraft has gone down, and who can you see?” he said pointing around to one guard at the airport entrance.

There have been many reports of lax security at Sharm el-Sheikh airport since the incident. Verna McKeich, a British tourist, said she was “shocked” to see a man on the scanning machine playing on his mobile phone.

Sarah Stratton, of London, said: “You’d think there’d be more guards on the door because this is a prime target. I’m a little bit nervous to be honest.”

There was also praise, however, for the staff on the ground. Scott Wright, from Devon, said: “The Egyptians in our hotel made a fantastic fuss with the girls, there was nothing they ever said no to, they were always willing to help.”

It is feared that the flight ban may continue into next month — throwing the Christmas holiday plans of tens of thousands into chaos. All tourists due to fly to the resort in the next week have been offered a full refund or the opportunity to book on another flight or holiday package.