First flight with British tourists from Sinai resort lands in UK

Passengers from Sharm al-Sheikh arrive home at Luton Airport, north of London on  Nov 6, 2015.
Passengers from Sharm al-Sheikh arrive home at Luton Airport, north of London on Nov 6, 2015.REUTERS

GATWICK, United Kingdom (AFP) - The first flight bringing British tourists back from Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt landed at London's Gatwick Airport on Friday, though several more were held up by "logistical complexities", the government said.

The easyJet plane had been due to leave the holiday resort on Wednesday but Britain suspended flights, warning about security at Sharm el-Sheikh airport and saying it feared a bomb may have brought down a Russian jet departing from there last week.

There were tears of relief as passengers from flight EZY9854 walked out with only their carry-on bags as British tourists are having to leave any check-in luggage in Egypt to be flown out to them later.

"I'm so grateful to be home with my family. I didn't think we would come back," Emma Turner, a 34-year-old from Kent in southeast England, told reporters.

Nicky Bull, a human resources manager, said: "The pilot got a round of applause and we all cheered. It was absolutely great!"

But she added: "I think a lot of people will question whether they ever want to go to Egypt again".

 
 
 

Bull said passengers were informed of increased security measures around their plane.

"We were told when we got on the plane that the Egyptian army and MI5 had been guarding the plane. There was no way that anybody could get at it."

Another passenger, Nathan Hazelwood, said: "The security in Egypt was shocking, we said it when we landed. The security needs to be heightened."

The flight landing in Gatwick was carrying 180 passengers and around the same number arrived on a subsequent easyJet flight at London Luton.

There are an estimated 20,000 British holidaymakers in Sharm el-Sheikh and its surrounding Red Sea resorts, with many keen to return as soon as possible because of the heightened security fears.

Only eight out of 29 planned flights to Britain were to leave Sharm el-Sheikh on Friday, according to Egypt's civil aviation minister Hossam Kamal, who said this was due to the requirement that passengers take only their hand luggage.

He said the airport could not accommodate more than 120 tonnes of check-in baggage left behind.

The British government held a meeting of its crisis response committee in London to review the situation at Sharm el-Sheikh airport.

"This is a hugely complex operation," a Downing Street spokeswoman said afterwards.

"We continue to work closely with both the Egyptian authorities and the airline carriers to get people safely home as quickly as possible. But the sheer scale of the task poses a number of logistical complexities."

British holidaymakers should not go to Sharm el-Sheikh airport "until airlines have absolute confirmation that they will be able to travel", she added.

Monarch, a charter airline, said that of five flights it had hoped to operate Friday repatriating British holidaymakers, only two were allowed to leave the Egyptian resort.

The British airline said four of the flights had landed at the Sinai peninsula holiday destination, with a fifth diverted to Larnaca on Cyprus.

One is flying to London Gatwick airport, with the other heading to Birmingham in central England.

"We recognise this is a very frustrating situation and apologise for the inconvenience this is causing our customers," Monarch said in a statement.

Thomson Airways also said that it would only be able to operate two flights from Sharm el-Sheikh.