Egypt denies halting British flights as tourists evacuate

British carrier EasyJet operated the first flight to repatriate tourists who have been stranded in Sharm al-Shaikh’s airport

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Egypt’s civil aviation ministry denied reports that authorities had stopped British airlines from flying into Sharm al-Sheikh airport on Friday, as the first flight to repatriate tourists left the city’s airport.

EasyJet’s flight EZY9854 took off for London's Gatwick airport after a long delay with 165 British passengers onboard, AFP reported.

“Flying out thousands of people on one day is incredibly hard. Everyone has to go through the procedures. We have not cancelled any flights but the airport cannot handle all these planes at once,” a spokesman for Egypt's aviation ministry told Reuters earlier on Friday.

British carrier easyJet said earlier on Friday that Egyptian authorities barred non-scheduled British airlines from flying into Sharm al-Sheikh, adding that eight of its planned flights will not be operating.

“The Egyptian authorities have currently suspended UK airlines from flying into Sharm el-Sheikh. This means that eight of easyJet’s 10 planned flights today will no longer be able to operate,” the airline said in a statement.

This is the latest development to affect Egypt’s airspace since a Russian plane crashed shortly after taking off from the Red Sea resort earlier this week, killing all 224 people on board and raising suspicions it was brought down by a bomb.

‘Lax security’

British media reported a shortcoming on behalf of airport security after a British holidaymaker revealed he passed queues and baggage screenings by paying £20 (30 U.S. Dollars).

“…a guy approached me, sort of slid up to the side of me, who seemed to have a bullet-proof ballistics vest on, and covered up with a jumper. He just said 'would you like to avoid these queues?” Dale Parkyn told Sky News.

“What we did is we discussed it and he then produced a £20 note and said 'have you one of these' and you can avoid the queue.”

Britain’s transport ministry said it was working with Egypt to ensure flights could bring home British tourists stranded in the Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh after one airline said it had been refused permission to fly some of its planes there.

“We are urgently working with the Egyptian authorities to try to ensure planned flights leave Sharm today,” a spokesman for Britain’s Department for Transport said.

EasyJet said that two aircraft which had already arrived in Sharm would be able to depart, but its other eight planned flights would not be able to operate.

“We are working with the UK government at the highest level on a solution. In the meantime we are also working on a contingency plan so we can operate as soon as we receive permission to fly,” it said.

EasyJet as well as charter companies Monarch and Thomson were all planning to fly empty planes to Sharm el-Sheikh on Friday to bring back some of the 20,000 British tourists currently in the resort.

A representative of Monarch told AFP they were not aware of any restrictions in Egypt but could not say when their planned additional flights would go to Sharm el-Sheikh to pick up passengers.

Additionally, Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM) will not be allowing check-in luggage onboard their flights from Cairo, the carrier said in a tweet.

Egyptian-British ‘cooperation’

Egypt is “completely ready” to work with its partners to protect foreign citizens and wants normal travel to resume as soon as possible, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Thursday.

His remarks came as Britain pushed for increased airport security measures in Sharm el-Sheikh after a Russian plane crashed shortly after taking off from the Red Sea resort, killing all 224 people on board and raising suspicions it was brought down by a bomb.

“We are completely ready to cooperate with all our friends to make sure that our airport provides the safety and security needed for the people who come to us,” he said at a joint news conference with Cameron.

“We also talked about the actions needed to make sure that this will not have any negative ramifications on the future of tourism in Egypt,” he said a day after Britain suspended flights to and from the resort, with Germany’s Lufthansa following suit on Thursday.

[with Reuters and AFP]