June 24, 2024

Latest flight advice for tourists as wildfires continue to ravage Rhodes, Corfu and Croatia

Southern Europe has found itself on the frontline of the climate crisis this summer, with the onset of an extreme heatwave bringing dangerously high temperatures to Italy and Spain and now raging wildfires to the hills of Greece.

The Greek islands have been a favourite destination for British holidaymakers for decades but this month has seen out-of-control blazes spark “the biggest evacuation” in its history from Rhodes while Crete, Corfu, Evia and Zante have also suffered devastating infernos.

Here’s what The Independent’s travel correspondent Simon Calder has had to say about the evolving situation so far.

Which flights are going and which have been cancelled?

UK airlines are continuing to sell flights for immediate departure from the UK to Rhodes despite the wildfires that have seen thousands of tourists evacuated from the island.

The UK’s two biggest tour operators, Jet2 and Tui, have cancelled all flights and holidays to Rhodes for several days ahead. They are offering refunds because of the fires, which have been raging on the Greek island for six days.

But other airlines are continuing to offer seats on flights to Rhodes and the travel firm Thomas Cook says most of its customers booked to travel on Sunday and Monday were travelling as normal.

From London Gatwick, easyJet has five flights to Rhodes on sale on Tuesday. But for those who no longer wish to travel, the airline is allowing free changes for passengers booked up to Saturday 29 July.

Jet2 is one of the holiday firms that has taken action to help British tourists on Rhodes

(Nicholas T Ansell/PA)

Three easyJet aircraft are also flying out empty to pick up UK holidaymakers wanting to come home early.

Ryanair says its operations to and from Rhodes are normal and that usual conditions apply.

Jet2 and Tui are dispatching aircraft with no passengers from UK airports to Rhodes to pick up holidaymakers. Both have dispatched teams to help customers.

Is Rhodes airport itself under threat from the wildfires?

Rhodes airport is on the northwestern shore of the Greek island, close to the capital, Rhodes Town. With no imminent danger in that area, airlines are entitled to operate a “business as usual” policy, with normal terms applying.

But most are expected to provide some options to customers, with package holidaymakers benefiting from extra protection.

It comes after holidaymakers were forced to flee resorts on Saturday, with some British tourists describing “terrifying” scenes of turmoil as power cuts caused “chaos” on the island. In previous days the wildfire was confined to the island’s mountainous centre, but aided by winds, very high temperatures and dry conditions, it spread on Saturday towards the coast on the island’s central-eastern side.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advises travellers to contact their airline or travel operator. For 24/7 British consular assistance, UK citizens abroad can call +44 20 7008 5000.

The FCDO has also sent a Rapid Deployment Team to Rhodes to support British nationals and the Greek Foreign Affairs ministry has set up a help desk at Rhodes airport.

I am in Rhodes and want to leave as soon as possible. What are my options?

Many tourists are in that position. Jet2 and easyJet are operating special repatriation flights in addition to the normal schedule. The general principle is that

British Airways says passengers booked to fly from Rhodes to London can switch to earlier flights without penalty – though little space may be available. The earliest BA departure with space available is on Wednesday evening.

Flames burn a forest in Vati village on the Aegean Sea island of Rhodes

(AP)

Other carriers may adopt a similar policy. But availability is scarce, with no seats on easyJet flights to the London area until late on Tuesday evening, and not before Wednesday to Manchester.

Most airlines are operating their normal schedules and are likely to continue to do so from Rhodes – though more outbound flights may be empty, as Jet2 and Tui are doing.

Flights are full. Are there any other ways out from the island?

Yes. Dodekanisos Seaways sails once or twice a day from Rhodes Town to Kos, where there are fairly frequent flights to the UK. The 8am sailing is usually the fastest and most reliable, taking around 2 hours and 30 minutes. A taxi will take you from the port to the airport in about 30 minutes, with much cheaper but slower buses available.

Flights on Tuesday 25 July include a Ryanair departure to London Stansted, which is currently selling at just £37.

The ferry voyage to Marmaris in Turkey is shorter, at around one hour, but the closest airport, Dalaman, is a long way from the town – making for a 90-minute taxi journey or two hours in a bus. In addition the frontier formalities leaving Greece and arriving in Turkey will take time.

I lost my travel documents in the scramble to leave the area. Can I leave the island?

Yes. To help tourists who were evacuated from their accommodation in a hurry and left their passports behind, the Greek authorities are issuing emergency and temporary identification to allow them to board their flights.

If I am brought home early, will I get some or all of my money back?

People who are anxious about being on the island but whose holidays have not been directly affected are unlikely to be offered any recompense for the lost holiday times.

Package holidaymakers whose trips are curtailed because their accommodation cannot be used are due a partial refund under the Package Travel Regulations. But it may not be as much as the traveller might expect.

A satellite image of the fires burning on Rhodes

(Planet Labs PBC/AP)

If a two-week holiday that costs £1,000 per person ends a week early, the refund will not simply be half the cost of the trip. The holiday company is entitled to subtract the value of the flights, which might be £400 – meaning only half of the remainder will be refunded, ie £300.

If you make the decision to return ahead of schedule, no compensation is due. Travel insurance may help with extra costs if you can demonstrate you spent them reasonably.

What help is available when I return to UK airports?

National Express, which runs coach services from Britain’s top airports, is offering free travel for holidaymakers repatriated from Rhodes to a different airport than they flew out from. They can go back to their original airport or to a different location of their choice within the UK. They need to supply proof of their original flight and airport, and the boarding pass of the flight they have taken.

“We’ve all seen the horrifying experiences people have had in the Greek wildfires on the news. This is the least we can do to help them get back home,” said Chris Hardy, managing director of National Express Coach.

Passengers with existing bookings who arrive back on a different day will be able to change without fuss.

I am booked to travel imminently to Rhodes. Can I cancel for a refund?

If the travel firm or airline cancels your trip you can expect a full refund within two weeks. If the flight is going ahead, then your rights depend on whether you are on a proper package holiday or have booked flights and accommodation separately.

Under the Package Travel Regulations, holidaymakers can cancel for a refund “if unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances occur at the place of destination or its immediate vicinity which significantly affect the performance of the package or the carriage of passengers to the destination”.

People have been evacuated from hotels in Rhodes as fires sweep through parts of the Greek island

(Ian Murison/AP)

In the case of key parts of Rhodes, this looks like reasonable grounds to cancel.

You can read up on the companies’ policies for imminent departures as of 4pm on Monday here.

I am booked to travel to Rhodes in August. Can I cancel?

Not at this stage. Depending on events over the next few days, travel firms will make decisions on their plans for the peak summer month.

The travel industry appears to be preparing the ground for a restart in tourism to some of the unaffected areas of Rhodes. A spokesperson for Abta, the travel association, said: “We understand that some of the resorts have had their evacuation order removed by the Greek authorities and people have been advised that they can return to the resorts of Lindos, Pefkos and Kalathos.

“Travel companies will be liaising with their accommodation providers to ensure that they are ready to receive customers and customers will be notified accordingly.”

Will Rhodes be put on a ‘no go’ list?

Calls are growing for fire-hit Rhodes to be placed on the Foreign Office “no go” list. That would compel travel firms to cancel all holidays for an indeterminate length of time – allowing families having second thoughts about going to a destination hit by such a calamity to get a full refund.

But as Simon Calder explained on his daily travel podcast, it is not as simple as that.

“Ninety per cent of the island appears to be safe and functioning. Jet2 and Tui, by far the biggest holiday companies, are already operating a de facto ‘no-go’ policy between now and Sunday 30 July,” he told the show this week.

“It is too early to know the extent to which August holidays will be affected, but decisions will be made in the next few days.

“If travel firms can offer safe and enjoyable holidays in Rhodes, I can see no reason to warn off holidaymakers.”

Would you go to Rhodes?

I sympathise with everyone who is feeling apprehensive about travelling to an island that, in places, is nothing short of a disaster area. Even though distressed and exhausted holidaymakers are still trying to return from Rhodes, some tourists have been proceeding with their trips as booked in the past few days.

But I would not travel there immediately: with people still trying to get out and the infrastructure under pressure, it would be unhelpful.

A fire burns trees and low vegetation in the Kiotari area of Rhodes

(EPA)

Looking ahead a few days, though, I believe the picture will change significantly. By tomorrow I believe the vast majority of people who understandably want to come home will have done so: large amounts of air capacity are going in as repatriation flights. Pressure on the resources will ease. And the damage to the resorts on the south east shore of Rhodes will be clear.

For people who are booked to the affected area, it may be that you are offered a choice between moving to a different location or a full refund. But getting all your money back is likely to be offered only if the travel firm deems it impossible for you to have a safe and enjoyable holiday.

The people of Rhodes have shown outstanding kindness and courage towards overseas tourists. In most parts of the island – and 90 per cent is unaffected – they will want to get back to work delivering great experiences for visiting holidaymakers. And, in a week or two, I would be glad to go there and meet them.

What is happening in Corfu?

A wildfire, which some reports say was started deliberately, has led to evacuations of some villages and a few hotels in the north east of the Ionian island.

A Tui spokesperson said on Monday: “We’ve been working with the local authorities in Corfu following the outbreak of a wildfire in the north east of the island last night resulting in guests being evacuated from a small number of hotels.

“As a precautionary measure we also stopped new arrivals into the affected hotels for Monday 24 and Tuesday 25 July. The situation is now fully under control and guests are returning to their hotels to continue their holidays as planned.”

The Abta spokesperson said: “The situation in Corfu is quite different to the situation in Rhodes. The wildfire on the north east of the island of Corfu is on a much smaller scale and is affecting significantly fewer holidaymakers.

“Some of the resorts were evacuated as a precautionary measure and we understand that those who were initially evacuated have mostly been able to return to their resorts and their accommodation.

“Corfu is a very large island. Hotels and resorts are open and providing holiday services. The majority of people travelling to or currently on holiday in Corfu should be able to continue their holidays as planned.

“Customers in Corfu and those due to travel there imminently are advised to continue to monitor the situation and follow any advice issued by the local authorities or their travel company.”

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