As many as 30,000 people have been left in holiday limbo after airlines cancelled flights to Rhodes, Greece, as the island continues to burn.
Wildfires for a week have been tearing through Rhodes, one of Greece’s most popular summer vacation destinations, gutting homes and upending lives.
An estimated 5,000 Brits remain stranded there, according to The Times, with tens of thousands due to fly there over the next two weeks.
The woes of holidaymakers and those who rely on the island’s tourism are piling up fast – the flames have damaged some hotels so severely they likely won’t open again this summer.
Holiday companies have been jetting people back to Britain on emergency charter flights, while others remain in makeshift shelters inside schools, gyms and boats moored at ports.
Airlines including British low-cost carrier Jet2, charted four emergency flights that departed last night while cancelling all regular flights. TUI, one of the largest tour operators in the world, laid an extra flight to fly this morning.
TUI had had 39,000 people on Rhodes as of Sunday night, it said.
What are your refund rights if you’ve booked a holiday to Rhodes or Corfu?
Residents and tourists alike are scrambling for refuge as wildfires tear through the Greek islands of Rhodes, Corfu and Evia.
Some airlines have cancelled all regular flights to the islands, though for other operators it’s business as usual.
The Foreign Office hasn’t outright advised against travelling to Rhodes or Corfu, instead asking tourists to check with the airline and hotel before departing. Neither has the Greek government.
Brits reconsidering their holiday plans have a few things they can do though if they want to get a refund.
But they might struggle. Airlines and holiday companies don’t have to offer refunds or compensation if the government hasn’t issued a travel warning.
Some might do, but they don’t have to. Holidaymakers could wrangle some money back under Package Travel Regulations – laws that make holiday organisers responsible for protecting travellers.
If you can prove your holiday would be seriously affected by ‘unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances’, you might be able to be compensated.
Anton Radchenko, CEO of the claims management company AirAdvisor, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Under both UK and EU regulations, if your flight to Rhodes is cancelled, the airline must provide a replacement flight or cover a flight on any other airline that has seats on the next available flight, should you still wish to travel.
‘In terms of compensation, travellers to Rhodes whose flights are cancelled less than two weeks’ before they were set to travel have the right to cash compensation of between £220 and £350, unless your airline can book you on an alternative flight that arrives close to your original arrival time.
‘Package holiday travellers will be entitled to more compensation.
‘In the case of free evacuation flights, compensation for delays does not apply if evacuation flights were not paid for by passengers.’
Travel experts say to pick up the phone and ask your tour provider, airline or hotel to see what options you have.
‘But be aware that if your flight isn’t yet cancelled,’ Matthew Harwood at Confused.com travel insurance previously told Metro.co.uk, ‘you may lose money if you choose to not fly.’
If this is the case, travel insurance probably won’t cover the costs either.
Radchenko says he advises clients to turn down flight vouchers offered by airlines as a form of compensation, as airlines ‘may later try to use this kind of documentation to reject your claim’.
From Sunday afternoon to Monday Monday, 2,115 tourists were flown home, mostly to the UK, Germany and Italy, Greek transport officials said.
Moments before take-off, an easyJet pilot set to fly to Rhodes from Gatwick issued a stern warning to passengers yesterday.
‘I don’t know in what capacity you are travelling,’ he said over the tannoy, ‘but if you are travelling for leisure, my sincere recommendation is it’s a bad idea.’
The wildfires, kindled by Rhodes’ tinder-dry conditions after days of relentless heat, have prompted the largest evacuate on from a fire in Greece’s history.
Fears for the people living on the island and vacationers hoping to leave are growing, with strong northwestern winds and high temperatures expected.
Greece’s national weather service says the island will be baked by 38°C today.
In Rhodes, residents of Ennadi, Vati, Massari, Malonas and Kalathos were all sent evacuation alerts yesterday, with an extreme fire risk alert (category five) in place across South Aegean.
Footage of the evacuation efforts has shown people walking along once picture-perfect seaside areas under hazy orange skies. At night, as people march towards rescue boats, the night sky continues to glow orange.
According to Ioannis Artopios, a spokesman for the Greek fire service, the rescue efforts in Rhodes now include eight planes and 10 helicopters.
A new fire erupted yesterday in the southeastern village of Asklipieio and is advancing in a southern direction, he told reporters.
‘Conditions remain difficult,’ Artopios added.
The week-long flames in Rhodes are among countless wildfires gripping Greece, with new outbreaks in Corfu and Evia sending even more lives into chaos.
Today, emergency officials have called for people to evacuate from Loutses, northern Corfu, as well as Platanistos, Evia.
Firefighters were called to 63 wildfires in the last 24 hours alone, the country’s national fire service said yesterday.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the country’s prime minister, told the Hellenic Parliament yesterday that climate change is ‘already here’ in Greece.
‘It will manifest itself everywhere in the Mediterranean with greater disasters,’ he told MPs, adding that people must brace themselves for three more ‘difficult days’.
‘Do not be fooled. It will be a difficult summer,’ he said, adding: ‘We are at war, we will rebuild what we lost.’
Have you or someone you know been impacted by the wildfires in Rhodes? Get in touch by emailing email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more stories like this, check our news page.
Get your need-to-know
latest news, feel-good stories, analysis and more