Brits scramble to secure travel back to UK before Saturday quarantine deadline

14 August 2020, 09:38

Travel companies have said they "cannot take everyone"
Travel companies have said they "cannot take everyone". Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Travel bosses have said they "haven't got the space to take everyone" back to the UK from France on Friday before the 14-day quarantine deadline takes effect.

Last night No10 removed France from its list of travel corridors, leaving hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers scrambling to rearrange their travel plans.

A 14-day quarantine on return to the UK from France will come into effect from 4am on Saturday.

It leaves travellers with a window of little more than 30 hours to get home if they want to escape having to spend two weeks in quarantine on their return.

As a result, Eurotunnel said they "have not got the space to take everyone" if people suddenly turn up on Friday.

Bosses said that the service will not be able to cope with "everyone who might suddenly want to come up to the coast comes on Friday."

Car-carrying Channel Tunnel trains are fully booked until Saturday.

Eurotunnel Le Shuttle said in a statement: "Due to the recent Government announcement, our shuttles are now fully booked until tomorrow morning.

"There is no more ticket availability and we are not selling tickets at check-in.

"Please do not arrive at the terminal unless you have a ticket valid for travel today."

This morning over 1,000 people had joined an online queue of those trying to hastily rearrange their travel plans.

Bosses warned holidaymakers who don't have bookings not to travel to the terminal in Calais as they will not be able to board trains.

The Le Shuttle website has been inundated
The Le Shuttle website has been inundated. Picture: Le Shuttle

Moments after the UK government announced last night that all travellers returning from France would have to self isolate for 14 days the Eurotunnel website was inundated with new booking requests.

Shortly after the news the Eurotunnel website went from zero to 12,000 waiting to get on the booking amendment page.

Eurostar says passengers with a booking up to 7 September can request a voucher that would be valid for 12 months from the date of issue.

Prices have been hiked on the service, with the cost of taking a car through the Channel Tunnel on Eurotunnel Le Shuttle services being £260 on Friday.

This is £60 more expensive than journeys taken on Saturday.

Similarly, a ticket on a Eurostar train from Paris to London today cost £210, compared with £165 on Saturday.

Undeterred passengers at London St Pancras made their way onto the 10.24am Eurostar service to Paris, including lawyer John Strange, 60, from Reading.

He said he was going to the French capital for 10 days and it was possible for him to work from home on his return.

"It's not a disaster for me but it seems for many people it will be, particularly those with young families, it's going to be catastrophic," he explained.

"I'm sure many will have to cancel their plans and have to accept all that pain and cost that goes with it."

A traveller who gave her name as Sonata K, a 39-year-old dentist, was due to head to Paris for four nights with her mother - but cancelled her plans after finding out about the quarantine measures at St Pancras on Friday morning.

She said: "It's not worth it to go out and have to self isolate. With my work I can't do the procedures from home.

"We were too late to get the news, we're just finding out here but it's better than on the train.

"We're looking at going to Cardiff and checking trains now, but the weather is changing a bit."

She added that for £30 they could change their Eurostar tickets to another day and said one hotel had charged them one night's stay for late cancellation.

Two pub workers arriving back in London from a 10-day trip to Belgium said they were required to self-isolate for 14 days - but that they had been taken off furlough and needed to work.

Asking to remain anonymous, one said: "I need the money, I can't work from home, I need to work. It's so tricky.

"My boss won't allow me to legally, so I'll need to find some kind of odd work in the meantime to get by."

John Keefe, director of public affairs for Eurotunnel, said: "This was a peak August holiday weekend so we were already fully-booked from people coming back from their two weeks or week in France or other countries in Europe as well so the chances of getting a space at the moment are extremely limited.

"That’s why we’re telling people to go online and check if space is available because if they just turn up they’re not going to get on.

"I think on the basis that last night when the news was announced our website went from zero to 12,000 waiting to get on the booking amendment page in just a few minutes I think it is highly unlikely anybody will find a space to travel today."

Mr Keefe said: “The thing we’re confronted with now is this sudden requirement for people wanting to travel back when they haven’t got a booking for tomorrow.

"What we’re saying to people is amend your booking online. Make sure there’s space before you travel to the terminal.

"We’ve already got the highest capacity we can at peak times so by the time people get to us tomorrow afternoon we will be running a peak service.

"There’s some possibility of adding additional trains in the off-peak periods and we will try and do that where we can, but people must look online and check there is capacity there before they travel to the terminal."

Holidaymakers have also been warned that emergency last minute flights will be expensive.

British Airways is charging £452 for the cheapest tickets to fly direct from Paris to London Heathrow.

The same journey on Saturday can be made with the airline for just £66.

A spokesperson for easyJet said: "EasyJet notes the Government’s decision to impose a quarantine requirement for those travelling from France, Malta and the Netherlands.

"We plan to operate our full schedule in the coming days.

"Customers who no longer wish to travel can transfer their flights without a change fee or receive a voucher for the value of the booking.

"Should any flights be cancelled for later in August customers will be notified and informed of their options which includes transferring to an alternative flight free of charge, receiving a voucher or applying for a refund via a webform on our dedicated Covid Help Hub at easyJet.com."

The Ryanair website states: “Please note that a government imposed advice on quarantine period will not result in the flight being cancelled and an automatic entitlement to refunds.”

Many direct flights to the UK on Friday are sold out.

Flight booking website Skyscanner suggested there were no direct flights from Biarritz to London.

The cheapest option it offered was to take one flight to Paris, another to Belfast and a third arriving at London Stansted shortly before midnight, at a total cost of £284.

The lowest priced ticket involving just two flights is £579 with Air France, changing in Paris.

A Heathrow spokesman said: "The UK needs a more sustainable long-term plan for the resumption of travel than quarantine roulette.

"Testing could provide an opportunity to safely reduce the length of quarantine in certain circumstances, protecting both the health and wealth of the nation as we pave a path towards a new normal.

"As ever, our teams will be on hand to support passengers impacted by the travel restrictions but we urge Government to work with us to trial a solution which could help to provide more certainty."

The new rules for holidaymakers returning from France will come into effect at 4am on Saturday.

The Netherlands, Monaco, Malta, Turks & Caicos and Aruba have also be added to the list of countries deemed unsafe.

France - the UK's second most popular holiday destination - was taken off the 'safe' list due to a rise in coronavirus infection rates.

There is estimated to be roughly 500,000 Brits currently in France.

Between August 6 - 12, new cases in France rose to 18.1 per 100,000, up from 13.1 for the previous seven days.

Following the announcement, Secretary of State for European Affairs Clement Beaune said: "A British decision which we regret and which will lead to a measure of reciprocity, hoping for a return to normal as soon as possible @Djebbari_JB."

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