Thousands of holidaymakers on the Greek island of Rhodes have been forced to evacuate over the last week as wildfires continue to ravage the popular holiday destination. Whilst many major airlines have organised repatriation flights for families fleeing the devastation, other carriers have been criticised for their lack of communication with passengers.
“Hell On Earth” – Pandemonium For Holidaymakers And Locals Forced To Flee Rhodes
Scenes of devastation have spread across the Greek island of Rhodes over the past week as wildfires have engulfed the popular holiday destination, destroying locals’ homes and livelihoods and forcing holidaymakers to flee the island, in many cases with just the clothes on their backs. The shocking scenes come as Europe continues to be hit by extreme temperatures due to the high-pressure anticyclone Charon.
Week-long wildfires on Rhodes, one of the Dodecanese islands, have forced locals and holidaymakers to flee the villages of Gennadi, Kalathos, Kiotari, Lardos, Lindos, Pefki and other towns/villages along the coast.
Efforts to guide holidaymakers to safety have led to the largest fire evacuation in Greek history, involving more than 19,000 people, and according to reports from Rhodes’ police department, this number includes 16,000 individuals evacuated by land and 3,000 evacuated by sea from 12 villages and numerous hotels.
Greece’s Ministry of Climate Crisis and Civil Protection is working to contain the rapidly spreading fires, although there are fears that the situation will worsen as temperatures continue to rise and high winds are set to hit the island.
Help For Holidaymakers Forced To Flee Rhodes – Varying Responses From Different Airlines
The assistance provided by major airlines in light of the unprecedented situation has been varied, with some airlines providing immediate repatriation flights for holidaymakers and cancelling all flights to Rhodes until the end of the month to others providing minimal communication and, in one case, stating that customers would simply fly back on the original date of their return flight, much to the condemnation of passengers.
Flag carrier British Airways has not announced any cancellations; however, the airline has stated that passengers who need to end their holiday early will be able to change their return flight free of charge, and holidaymakers due to travel to the island in the next week will also be able to move their flights to a later date.
Low-cost airline Ryanair is another airline yet to cancel any flights to and from the island, with the company announcing that flights to and from Rhodes would “continue as scheduled”. The airline will not be running repatriation flights, and it has made no reference to the devastation on Rhodes on any of its social media accounts.
On Sunday, leading package holiday operator/airline Jet2 announced that it would be cancelling all flights and holidays to Rhodes up to and including Sunday 30th July. Customers due to fly to the island over the coming week will be contacted regarding their refund and rebooking options.
In an announcement posted on Twitter, the airline stated that planes originally due to transport passengers to Rhodes would fly to the country with no passengers on board so that they could be used to evacuate holidaymakers and so that the airline could help to relieve pressure on the island’s infrastructure. The airline operated one repatriation flight on Sunday evening to Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA) and four such flights to airports including Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester on Monday evening.
Also on Sunday, whilst providing no information on repatriation flights, travel operator Thomas Cook also took to Twitter to announce that it would be cancelling holidays to the island’s at-risk areas, Kiotari and Lardos, up to and including Monday 31st July. According to the airline’s announcement, customers travelling to other areas of the island on Sunday 23rd, Monday 24th and Tuesday 25th July would be contacted and offered a full refund should they no longer wish to travel. Customers due to depart on Wednesday 26th July were also promised correspondence from the airline no later than 6 a.m. on Tuesday 25th July, with those scheduled to travel after Wednesday to be contacted in due course.
In an announcement made through social media on Sunday, budget airline easyJet shared that it would be operating two repatriation flights to London Gatwick Airport (LGW) on Monday, followed by an additional assistance flight on Tuesday and, if deemed necessary, further flights later in the week.
Despite repatriation flights being scheduled for passengers desperately trying to leave Rhodes, the airline announced no flight cancellations and noted that it would be running its scheduled service as normal. Customers booked onto flights due to depart before Saturday 29th of July wanting to change their plans would, however, be entitled to transfer their flight(s) to another date or request a flight voucher for the value of their unused flights.
In the same announcement, holiday provider easyJet Holidays shared that it would be cancelling all holidays departing up to and including Tuesday 25th July, with customers due full refunds. Passengers scheduled to fly to the island from Wednesday 26th July up to and including Saturday 29 July would be contacted by the company to confirm their options.
On Monday, British charter airline TUI announced that it had operated three overnight repatriation flights to bring passengers back to the UK. The airline was initially criticised for providing no information over the weekend on evacuation procedures for customers already on the island, with holidaymakers simply being advised that they would return home on the flights that they had originally booked.
On the same day, the airline announced via Twitter that it would be cancelling all flights to Rhodes up to and including Friday 28th July, and for those travelling to impacted hotels, this will cover the period up to and including Saturday 29th July. Package holiday customers due to fly to the island up to and including Sunday 30th July will be able to make amendments to their booking free of charge or cancel their holiday and receive a full refund, whilst flight-only customers will receive a full refund.
Chaos At Rhodes Airport – Misery For Holidaymakers And Praise For Locals
Efforts to repatriate holidaymakers as part of the largest fire evacuation in Greek history led to thousands of families being forced to sleep on the floor of Rhodes International Airport (RHO) whilst they waited for news of repatriation flights. Many of those stranded at the airport were left with limited water and food supplies for long periods and no access to washing facilities.
Many holidaymakers, fleeing by foot, boat or car, were forced to leave their belongings at their hotel/accommodation, with a number of tourists even having to flee wearing only their swimwear and flip-flops due to the rapid spread of the fires.
A Rapid Deployment Team comprising five staff members and four British Red Cross responders was deployed by the Foreign Office to assist British nationals at the airport with travel documents and to liaise with Greek authorities and travel operators on the ground. Despite the assistance provided by the relevant authorities, many holidaymakers expressed their frustration with the lack of adequate communication from their airlines/tour operators.
On the other hand, locals have been thanked by grateful holidaymakers for the kindness they have shown in offering lifts to the airport, donating cases of food, water and fruit for those staying in temporary accommodation and even providing shelter for others.
Extreme Weather In Europe And Beyond
The wildfire devastation across Rhodes and the consequential disruption caused to travellers have both been exacerbated by Europe’s battle with a high-pressure weather system called an “anticyclone”—an area of high atmospheric pressure—which is being pushed from North Africa into Europe. The Mediterranean region is being particularly affected by devastating heatwaves, with the mercury hitting the high 40s in parts of Greece, Spain and Italy.
In addition to the recent disruption caused to travellers by the extreme weather phenomena gripping Europe, earlier this year, travellers in Oceania were faced with delays and cancellations due to catastrophic flooding.
In January, Auckland Airport, New Zealand’s busiest airport, was hit by biblical-scale flooding, as extreme rainfall hit the country’s North Island. Continued flood chaos forced airport authorities to close the submerged international terminal, causing wide-scale flight cancellations and leaving passengers with no option but to sleep at the airport overnight. Travellers even took to social media to share footage of fellow passengers wading through knee-high, dirty water as they attempted to make their way through the airport’s terminals.
Everyone at Travel Radar sends their thoughts to the people of Rhodes.
*All information correct at the time of going to press.