Stranded British Tourists Anxious to Leave Egyptian Resort

November 6, 2015 Updated: November 6, 2015
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SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt—Hundreds of British tourists stranded in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, from where the doomed Russian plane took off last weekend, waited anxiously Friday for flights home as budget carrier easyJet said the Egyptian government had disrupted its plans to fly the Britons out of Sinai.

Britain had grounded all flights to and from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on Wednesday, saying there was a “significant possibility” the Russian airliner that crashed last Saturday, killing 224 people, was downed by a bomb.

The Metrojet’s Airbus A321-200 crashed 23 minutes after takeoff from Sharm el-Sheikh en route to St. Petersburg, with mostly Russian tourists aboard.

U.K. authorities had approved flights back, starting Friday. EasyJet had been due to operate 10 flights from the Red Sea resort but said eight would not be able to fly because Egypt had suspended British flights from flying into the airport.

“We are working with the U.K. government at the highest level on a solution,” easyJet said in a statement.

There was no explanation from Cairo on what had caused the disruption. Two other carriers, Monarch and British Airways, said they still planned to operate flights back from Sinai on Friday.

The surprise disruption is likely to hinder Britain’s attempts to bring back the estimated 20,000 U.K. nationals in Sharm el-Sheikh. Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said earlier Friday that “most of the people who were expecting to be home by tonight will be home by tonight.”

On the ground in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egyptian police carried out expanded security checks Friday. Dozens of busses waited outside the airport, the line stretching up to a kilometer (half mile) as police inspected each vehicle, ferrying mostly Russian and British tourists to the airport.

Russia and Egypt have dismissed Western suggestions that a bomb may have caused the crash, saying the speculation was a rush to judgment and insisting the investigation must run its course. The United States and British leaders have stopped short of a categorical assignment of blame in the crash, but Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday it was “more likely than not” that the cause was a bomb.

The crash prompted companies to ground flights from and to the Red Sea resort, stranding thousands of tourists this week.

Britain has said that additional security measures would be in place, including only allowing passengers to carry hand baggage, while checked luggage will be transported separately. The carry-on measure applies only to those departing from Sharm el-Sheikh, British officials said.

Inside the crowded airport, British tourists said they were just anxious to get home.

“We were in the first flights that were cancelled Wednesday night, we were already queuing to board,” said Amy Johnson, a 27-year-old British administrative assistant hoping to catch one of Friday’s EasyJet flights out of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Standing in a crush of hundreds waiting to pass through security, Johnson said she didn’t feel that British authorities have adequately supported the stranded tourists. “We’re being left to deal with this ourselves.”

Another tourist, Terrance Mathurian, a British builder travelling with his family, said they were told by hotel staff in the morning to head to the airport, following conflicting information. Looking at the long security line, he said that he “can understand why they have this situation here but personally, we’ve had no problems at all.

In an unusual decision, Dutch carrier KLM said it has instructed its passengers leaving from the Egyptian capital of Cairo that they can only take hand luggage on the plane departing Friday. A statement on KLM’s website says the measure is “based on national and international information and out of precaution.”

There were no further details and it was unclear why such measures would be imposed at the Cairo airport.

KLM, which has no direct flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, did not elaborate on what their measure is based on and nothing has been revealed so far from the ongoing investigation. KLM spokeswoman Gedi Schrijver repeated the carrier’s statement and would not give any more details about the source of the information that led to the decision.

Security officials at the Cairo airport told The Associated Press that flight KL554 left for Amsterdam on Friday morning with only 115 passengers out of the 247 who were booked on that flight. The rest refused to leave without taking their check-in bags, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama said the U.S. was taking “very seriously” the possibility that a bomb brought down the plane.

The Islamic State group, which has not generally pursued “spectacular” attacks outside its base in Syria, has claimed responsibility for bringing down the plane, but Russian and Egyptian officials say the claim was not credible. Russia is conducting an air war in Syria against Islamic State militants who have promised retaliation.

Earlier this week, two U.S. officials told the AP that images from U.S. satellites detected heat around the jet just before it went down. The infrared activity could mean several things, including a bomb blast or an engine exploding because of a mechanical breakdown.

Egypt — which stands to lose millions of dollars from its vital tourism industry — maintains there is nothing wrong with the airport facility at Sharm el-Sheikh, which each year welcomes thousands of vacationers to the resort beside the crystal-clear Red Sea.