What to do if you’re stranded abroad trying to get home to the UK

Apr 8, 2020

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The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised all U.K. nationals to return home immediately amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis. The department said that if commercial flights are still available, British nationals travelling abroad should return to the U.K.

Now.

Thousands of Brits remain abroad all over the world, trying to get home. The reality is that your options are reducing by the day, as is the urgency to return home. If you’re not able to return home now you could be stuck abroad for many months before the world returns to normal. Here are some tips if you’re still trying to return to the U.K.

Related: 10 unusual ways airlines repatriated stranded citizens and delivered coronavirus medical supplies

Try and find your own way home

You may have already invested a lot of time into this, but if you can find your own way home now, do so. The repatriation flight you are counting on may happen, or it may not. Don’t assume anything in this rapidly changing situation. If you can find a flight home yourself, the peace of mind of being able to leave quickly should not be underestimated.

Be creative. Flights leaving tomorrow may be completely sold out, but it may be worth heading to the airport early, explaining your plight to check-in staff and waiting to see if there are any seats available at the last minute. Some booked passengers may not turn up for their flight and you might be able to score the final seat(s).

It’s also worth considering a round-trip ticket instead of a one-way fare, as one-way tickets are typically more expensive. It’s an easy way to lower the cost, and while we don’t recommend this under normal circumstances, no one will force you to take that second part of the round-trip if you don’t want to.

Check the FCO site regularly to see if there is a repatriation flight planned for your country.

Handmade carpets and rugs in Morocco
Handmade carpets and rugs in Morocco. (Photo by Getty Images)

Contact your local embassy

If you have not already done so, immediately contact your nearest British embassy to advise them on your location, health conditions, contact details and your desire to return to the U.K. If the embassy does not answer their phone, contact them by email and social media (Twitter and Facebook). They will likely add your details to a register of stranded passengers in that region, which they will consult if and when they conduct repatriation flights.

You should also contact the FCO for the same purpose to guarantee the British Government has your details.

Check your travel insurance

You may have the option to return home yourself. For example, Qatar Airways continues to operate commercial flights to fly people home. However, it’s worth noting that these flights may be very expensive. Check if your travel insurance covers pandemics — many policies do not and your insurer may have already contacted all policyholders to clarify this. If your insurance does cover an expensive cash fare home, this is an option for you, assuming you can physically make it to the airport. You may wish to contact your insurance provider to check before booking. You may get a quicker response contacting them via social media than waiting on hold on the phone.

If you decided to travel abroad since the FCO issued an Avoid All Travel warning and are now struggling to find a way home, this will most likely be ineligible for any insurance claim as you ignored government travel advice.

Note that if your flight home was cancelled by the airline, whether that was because of insufficient demand or travel restrictions imposed by local governments, this will not be covered by EU261 compensation as it is an extraordinary circumstance.

Be ready to leave immediately

Repatriation flights are complicated to organise. The FCO will need to find a plane and crew, and seek permission to land and takeoff from an airport that the airline may never have visited before. The FCO also needs to ensure all of the passengers can make it to the airport in time to take the flight, as they will presumably be scattered around the country.

If a repatriation flight is organised, you are likely to be given very little notice, so ensure your travelling party is ready to leave immediately. There may only be one flight available, so check your emails and phone regularly for notification of the details and be ready to go quickly.

Oh, and arrive at the airport as early as you can and remain patient. If an airline is operating from an airport it’s never flown to before, the check-in and boarding process is likely to be slow and disorganised. The last thing you want is to miss your one option home because you arrived at the airport late.

Have an isolation environment ready for you when you arrive in the UK

When you arrive back in the U.K., you should plan to self-isolate for at least 14 days. If your house is empty waiting for you to return, great.

If not, try and have a space ready for your arrival that isolates you from others. If you live with other people who are already in the house, you may wish to consider renting a separate arrangment for two weeks to allow you to self-isolate.

LONDON, - MARCH 17: People wait for passengers in International Arrivals at Heathrow Terminal 5 on March 17, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. Several UK and European carriers are reducing staff and practically grounding their fleets as governments worldwide impose travel restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
(Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

One traveller’s experience

British passport holder Cai Davies was travelling in Arequipa, Peru, more than 600 miles from the capital of Lima (LIM) last month. He had booked flights back to the U.K. weeks ago as concerns about the coronavirus grew, but the government closed all airports in the country with only a few hours warning. He was then placed into lockdown in his hostel for two weeks. He immediately attempted to contact the British embassy in Peru by phone but no one picked up — the embassy had closed as a social distancing measure.

“I eventually managed to make contact with the Embassy via Facebook and Twitter who simply told us to contact the FCO and stay put. I contacted everyone I could think of — my local Member for Parliament in Lambeth ended up being the most responsive”, Davies told TPG.

After almost two weeks in lockdown trying desperately to return home, Davies eventually received the phone call he’d been praying for. The British Consulate in Arequipa had organised a repatriation flight home for him to leave early the next morning, connecting in Lima (LIM) to London Gatwick (LGW). He was charged £250 for the repatriation flight. And as it was not an official British Airways flight, Davies was advised that he would not collect any Avios for the ticket.

As for the flight home itself? Davies said social distancing was enforced at Lima (LIM) airport with all passengers instructed to keep two metres between one another as they were screened for any health issues. There was no real departure time. The pilots, crew and other passengers waited as long as it took for the repatriation passengers to arrive from all over the country in order to bring as many people home as possible. If you’re wondering how seating on this repatriation flight was decided, there were no upgrades for elite status Executive Club members.

“They filled the plane up from front to back and all elderly and vulnerable passengers were placed in the business class and premium economy seats”, said Davies. He also noted there was no alcohol or regular food service, but the crew were friendly and considerate.

He was disappointed to see the flight departed when it was not full (he ended up with a row of seats to himself in economy), given he was aware there were still more than 100 British nationals stranded in Peru.

British Airways repatriation flight at Lima Airport. (Photo by Cai Davies/The Points Guy)

Davies’ advice for anyone still stuck abroad?

“Create a media storm. Email your MPs, get your friends and family to email them too. Email the FCO, use social media daily to put out your message of your situation making sure you use the right hashtags and include those that are responsible to help you in them. If you aren’t telling the media back home in the U.K. about your situations, how are the people supposed to know? There are still thousands trapped overseas looking to get home and need all of our help to get them home”.

Bottom line

These are unprecedented times we are experiencing, and the situation is particularly difficult if you’re stranded abroad. If you have not already, try and return home as soon as possible by whatever means possible unless you are comfortable remaining where you are for the foreseeable future.

Best of luck, and stay safe.

Photo by Eduardo Flores on Unsplash

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