Flights resume for British travelers in Sharm el-Sheikh, but uncertainty remains

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CAIRO — For Jonathan Hughes, a British vacationer left in limbo by the confusion surrounding flights to the UK from the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, the resumption of some flights Friday was welcome.

But like tens of thousands of others vacationing in Sharm el-Sheikh after the Metrojet Flight 9268 tragedy, he remained uncertain about when he would make it home, as the picture surrounding flights in and out of the Red Sea resort grew more complicated Friday.

“I’m guessing we’ll be in the queue,” the 28-year-old management accountant told CNN, as he awaited further information on whether his flight home to Manchester, northern England, would operate as scheduled Saturday.

“Not knowing if tomorrow is going to be another day on holiday, or if we’re coming home, is a bit frustrating,” he said.

UK flights resume, but complications endure

Flights from the resort to the UK resumed Friday, after having been grounded over fears that a bomb planted by an airport worker may have brought down a Russian airliner Saturday.

EasyJet Flight 9854 landed at London’s Gatwick airport with 180 passengers on Friday afternoon, the first of the so-called rescue flights to touch down.

But with Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Hossam Kamel saying only eight flights to the UK were scheduled to leave Friday, instead of the usual 29, a heavy backlog was anticipated.

Flights for carriers Thomas Cook and Monarch that were scheduled to land were diverted, with Thomas Cook saying three flights had been canceled because of a limited number of departure slots.

Turkish Airlines announced it was suspending flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh until Sunday, after the arrival of its specialist team to assess security procedures at the resort’s airport.

And, remarkably, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday agreed to suspend Russian air traffic with Egypt until the reasons for the Metrojet airliner crash were known, the Kremlin said.

There are believed to be about 50,000 Russian tourists in Egypt, according to preliminary data, the Russian Association of Tour Operators said Friday.

Earlier, Russian vacationers had expressed on social media their relief to be on board a homeward-bound flight. “We are (on) the plane and feel great,” posted Instagram user @senejskayafox.

The UK government estimates that 20,000 Britons are in Sharm el-Sheikh, and that it could take 10 days to get all of them out.

Those who leave will be allowed to travel only with carry-on luggage, leaving checked baggage behind to be returned separately on cargo flights arranged under special security measures ordered by the British government.

In a statement, Kamel said that the luggage left behind was expected to affect the operation of the airport, but that the bags would be sent on cargo planes on the same day the passengers’ flights departed.

‘Not losing any sleep’

Hughes, who was on vacation with girlfriend Rebecca Ward, a 27-year-old math teacher, said that despite the uncertainty, his vacation had not been too negatively affected.

The mood among vacationers at his hotel was “mostly relaxed,” he said, in contrast to the scenes of long queues and weary travelers emerging from Sharm el-Sheikh airport.

“There’s a few people talking about it, but not losing any sleep over it,” said Hughes. “A lady was getting very worked up about it this morning, (her) main gripe seemed to be, bizarrely, that she couldn’t bring makeup home, so that’ll all need replacing.”

He said he expected there to be a backlog and his travel operator had said their costs would be covered at the hotel as long as they were stranded, so “we certainly can’t complain.”

His main gripe was the uncertainty. The planes in the sky, visible from his hotel, were a welcome sight, but he had been told that flights faced at least a three-hour delay.