Published on Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Operators send rescue flights to bring thousands home from The Gambia

Thousands of British holidaymakers are being urged to leave the country due to growing tensions following the disputed Presidential elections on December 1 and the handover this week.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office changed its level of advice to The Gambia yesterday evening, advising all but essential travel.

It said it had taken the decision due to the 'deteriorating political situation and potential military intervention'. It warned there was also a high risk of civil disturbance and a possibility that Banjul International Airport could be closed at short notice.

Thomas Cook said it will lay on additional flights into Banjul airport over the next 48 hours to bring 985 British customers home. In addition, it is contacting approximately 2,500 flight-only customers in Gambia to offer 'the earliest possible flight availability' for return to the UK.

In a statement, Thomas Cook said: "We are dispatching a special assistance team with our first flight from the UK to provide additional support at Banjul airport for our customers. Our colleagues on the ground in Gambia will proactively contact all customers on holiday with us as soon as possible to prepare for return to the UK."

It said no customers would be able to fly out to The Gambia until the FCO advice changes. It is asking customers whose travel plans have been affected to contact it on 01733 224 536.

Specialist operator The Gambia Experience posted the following message on its website: "Whilst the current situation in The Gambia remains calm we will be working with the FCO and airline partners to offer pre-emptive repatriation flights back to the UK."

It said the first repatriation flight for Gatwick passengers will be later today and there will be a second flight on Friday. However, it did not give details of other rescue flights. "Details of Manchester and Birmingham flights will be advised to customers in resort," it said.

The Gambia Experience said customers had been advised to remain in their hotel and will be accommodated by the operator until they returned home. Flight-only customers with a valid return ticket are being asked to contact its local resort office on (00220) 446 3867 if they want to return to the UK on a repatriation flight.

The operator has cancelled all further travel to The Gambia up to January 31. Those customers due to travel from February 1 to 15 are being given the option to postpone their trips or travel to another destination featured by parent company Serenity Holidays.

ABTA estimates there are around 2,000 people currently on holiday with its members in The Gambia, plus more who have travelled independently.

It is advising package holidaymakers to contact their tour operator to confirm arrangements for returning home.

"Those who have travelled independently will need to contact their airline to discuss their options," it said.

"Tour operators will not send out any further package holidaymakers to the Gambia while the FCO advice remains in place."

Those due to travel imminently are advised to contact their tour operator to discuss the options of changing their date of travel and will receive a full refund or can book an alternative holiday.

"The political situation remains fluid and the FCO travel advice will reflect this," added ABTA.

"Travel companies will continue to monitor the situation and allow cancellations and rebooking for travel dates while the advice against all but essential travel remains in place.

"Although modest in total numbers, in recent years The Gambia has become an increasingly popular winter sun destination."

Adboulie Hydara, director general of the Gambia Tourism Board said today: "We are monitoring the political situation and are working closely with our UK tour operator partners to support them in returning customers to the UK.

"All holidaymakers with independent flight bookings are advised to contact their flight provider to discuss travel options. For those with future bookings to the Gambia we advise that they speak to their holiday provider to change their date of travel.

"We will continue to monitor the situation carefully and share updated advice accordingly. As a popular winter sun destination among British holidaymakers, the safety of our visitors is of the upmost importance and we look forward to continuing to welcome them once the situation has been fully resolved."

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