British tourists could be stranded in Sharm el-Sheikh for up to 10 days, as officials struggle to bring holidaymakers home. Rescue operations were stalled after Egyptian authorities said they would only allow a 'restricted number' of flights to leave the resort each day.
Twenty-nine 'rescue planes' had been due to leave the Red Sea resort yesterday (6 November) after Britain announced it had agreed new security measures with Egypt, including allowing passengers to take only essential items in hand luggage.
However, only eight flights left the resort yesterday after Egypt's minister of civil aviation said the airport could accommodate temporary storage of only 120 tons of luggage.
Explaining the practical difficulty of retaining the luggage at the airport, Egypt's civil aviation minister Hossam Kamal said: "The British airline (easyJet) wants to schedule 18 flights at the same time and wants to transport British passengers from Sharm al-Sheikh without their luggage, which we would have to transport later. This constitutes a huge burden on the airport because its capacity does not allow for that. We have asked them to organise eight flights only and one plane will transport luggage."
A Downing Street spokesman said the Government is 'working closely' with Egyptian authorities, UK airlines and tour operators to ensure passengers are 'returned to the UK as soon as possible', but despite Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin's earlier assurances that the 'vast majority' of passengers booked to come home this week would be back in Britain by last night, it added it is likely some tourists will be advised to extend their stays at their resorts.
"With a limited number of flights able to leave Sharm el-Sheikh each day for the UK, it is likely that tour operators or airlines will advise some people to extend their stay at their resort. We understand that tour operators and airlines are working to ensure that where people need to extend their stay at their resort necessary costs will be covered.
"It is important that people stay at their resort until they have confirmation from their airline or tour operator that they are on a flight back to the UK and that they follow their airline's advice on the appropriate arrival time at the airport.' Passenger safety remains the 'top priority'", the spokesperson added.
Mail Online reports that hundreds of frustrated holidaymakers were sent back to their hotels after planned flights were cancelled, leaving the airport in chaos.
Megan Kehoe, 21, said she queued for two hours in security, only to be told she would not be able to check in. "They just told us to step aside and let the Gatwick and Birmingham passengers through. It is an absolute shambles, no one has a clue what is going on."
Darrell Peter, 43, and partner Sarah Cook, 44, were told to go to the airport on Friday for their easyJet flight but were also sent back to their hotel after checking in. Mr Peter, an IT manager from Amersham, Buckinghamshire, said: "We got here at 10am, went through security and then about half an hour ago they said, 'The flight is not going. Go back to your hotel'."
In an attempt to diffuse fears of a potential bomb attack, the British embassy in Cairo has released a statement explaining that the tourists being flown out of Sharm el-Sheikh are not being "evacuated".
"Thanks to close cooperation with the Egyptian authorities on the ground in Cairo and in Sharm el-Sheikh, we have restarted flights from Sharm el-Sheikh to the UK. Britain is not evacuating its tourists early from their holidays. The steps that we have taken yesterday and today with the Egyptian authorities and UK airlines will now allow us to get British people home safely at the end of their holidays," the statement read.
Around 1,500 people returned to the UK yesterday and the Government expects a similar numbers to return today. 16,000 Britons are waiting to return home.
Last week the British government has ordered the suspension of all flights to and from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula over concerns a Russian plane that crashed there at the weekend was downed by an "explosive device."