The UK government has pledged £75 million (€84 million) to help organise special flights to bring home British travellers stranded abroad amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Tens of thousands of Britons have been unable to return to the UK as countries around the world close borders and impose drastic restrictions on movement, and airlines severely curtail schedules.
The UK Foreign Office has announced a new partnership with several airlines to help get people home. The money will go towards special charter flights to bring people back from “priority countries” where commercial routes do not exist.
The government is also calling on airlines to recognise their “responsibility” towards passengers in showing maximum flexibility.
“The arrangements agreed today will provide a clearer basis to organise special charter flights where Britons find themselves stranded. Our priority will always be the most vulnerable,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told a news conference on Monday.
Virgin, EasyJet, Jet2 and Titan Airways have signed up to the partnership, the government says, adding that British Airways has also pledged to get people home in the national interest.
The government says the charter flights are a last resort and urges people to seek commercial options where they are available.
The Foreign Office says its efforts have already helped many tourists and other Britons abroad return home — including 150,000 UK nationals from Spain, as well as others from countries such as Morocco, Cyprus, China and Peru.
But many stranded British travellers have complained that they have received little or confusing advice.
The main Labour opposition accused the government of doing less than other countries in helping their nationals stuck abroad. It has called for repatriation efforts to be targeted towards problems in specific countries: Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Australia and New Zealand.
Airlines around the world have been hit massively by the coronavirus pandemic, with huge losses of revenue as flights have been cancelled en masse.
Separately, the UK government has told airlines they will benefit from measures announced to support jobs and industry, such as paying a large proportion of staff wages. But an industry-wide bailout has been ruled out.