THE planned rescue of 20,000 stranded British holidaymakers descended into chaos yesterday after Egyptian airport officials said they had no space for them to leave their suitcases behind.
As a result, only eight of the 29 planned flights to the UK were granted permission to fly, with the first EasyJet flight, with 180 passengers, landing at Gatwick at 4:25pm. A second touched down at Luton an hour later.
The first of the stranded Scots were due in at Glasgow Airport last night on a flight operated by Thomson Airways.
Yesterday’s planes were the first to return from the resort since the UK government grounded flights due to fears a terrorist bomb may have caused a Russian airliner to crash a week ago, killing all 224 on board.
The majority of empty planes sent from the UK were either turned back or grounded.
Authorities in Egypt said just over a quarter of the planned 29 flights were able to take off, reportedly due to baggage problems and general overcrowding at Sharm el-Sheikh airport.
Egypt’s civil aviation minister Hossam Kamal said that as British airlines were flying without passengers’ luggage, the airport had not been able to cope with the more than 120 tons of luggage left behind. “This big volume will affect the smooth operation of the rest of the domestic and international flights,” he said, adding that a cargo plane was planned to carry the baggage of departing passengers.
Edinburgh-born Farhaan Mirza and his wife Shahida, from Falkirk, have been on holiday at Sharm el-Sheikh’s Sensatori resort. The couple, who now live in London, were due to fly home last night but had their flight cancelled at the last minute.
“All of the holidaymakers are just getting on as normal,” Mr Mirza said. “There has been a bit of nervousness, but on the whole people don’t feel threatened at all.”
He said Egyptian workers, who rely on a high level of tourism, were beginning to fear for their jobs and the local economy.
Two EasyJet flights to London and Luton took off yesterday, bringing 339 passengers home. Monarch Airways said two of its flights – to London and Birmingham – would be able to fly, while three others had been cancelled. Thomson Airways planned to operate two services, to Glasgow and London, while a single British Airways service ran as normal.
Flight tracking websites said two Thomson Holidays flights en route to pick up tourists from Egypt had been seen diverting to Cyprus, while a Thomas Cook plane was spotted turning around mid-flight.
British tourists who had waited for hours at Sharm el-Sheikh airport yesterday heckled Ambassador John Casson, who appeared at the airport to provide information to passengers. One irate tourist shouted at him: “When are we going home?”
Those who managed to leave Sharm el-Sheikh were told they could only take a few essential items – such as keys, credit cards and medicines. Their luggage, including babies’ buggies and wheelchairs, is to be sent back to the UK separately within the next ten days.
A disgruntled Evelyn Weir, 50, from Glasgow, who is on holiday with friends, said: “I don’t see why they can’t just scan all the bags beforehand? I don’t think people will be happy about this.”
Meanwhile, Russian president Vladimir Putin became the latest leader to suspend flights to and from the region until security is improved at its airports. Around 20,000 to 30,000 Russian tourists are believed to now be stranded at the resort, adding further pressure to the already overcrowded airport.
The Spanish government has warned its citizens against unnecessary travel to any part of Egypt – especially Sharm el-Sheikh –while the Belgian foreign ministry website recommended “heightened vigilance” for anyone travelling in Egypt.