Many British holidaymakers have been left out in the cold by the news that Greece will ban flights from the UK until mid-July.
On June 29, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced plans to open the country to international travellers from July 1, but specifically excluded flights from Britain and Sweden, scuppering the plans of thousands. All direct flights from the UK and Sweden have been suspended until July 15.
This came in stark contrast to the news last Friday that Greece – along with France and Spain – had been named by the UK government as being among its chosen 50 destinations for quarantine-free holidays from July 6.
With the possibility of a Greek holiday seeming to be more likely than ever, the number of searches for holidays in the country trebled over the weekend as a result.
Yet on Monday, instead of an announcement from Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, about his planned list of air bridges, Britons were greeted with the news that all UK flights into Greece had been prohibited.
Disappointment is high. Lewis Bailey, a police officer from Bournemouth, which has seen enormous crowds descend during the recent heatwave, described how he and his wife had booked a holiday off the back of the air bridge news.
“I have worked through the lockdown, and we have had two holidays planned for the lockdown period both cancelled, so my partner and I have been desperate to get away – especially now our six-year-old is back at school.”
“Given that other countries appeared to be having less problems than us with the virus, it almost felt safer to go abroad rather than have a staycation, given the horrendous crowds at Bournemouth last week.”
Bailey said he had been waiting for news on air bridges and that with the announcement last week things seemed clear. “We assumed Greece would be included, as all the news reports seemed to hint it was almost a certainty," he explained.
“We finally booked Sunday morning in the hope that Greece would be confirmed early this week, and were so excited.” Adding that worries over prices going up also played a factor, their holiday was booked for July 12. The following morning the family woke up to the news of Greece’s ban.
Bailey said that the family “just don’t know what to do now.” They’re hoping to get a full refund, but so far the company they booked through has been uncontactable.
Though it’s certain at least a few families will have booked holidays after hearing the air bridge news, even those with pre-existing holiday bookings have been infuriated by the abrupt turnaround.
Steve Besford has a villa booked in Corfu for his family. Though the booking has now passed the date in which they’d be able to get 100 per cent of their money back if cancelled, he “managed to persuade the owner to push back our travel dates because of the recent press.”
On Friday he persuaded the villa owner to push the dates back one last time, “because of the more promising reports”. But this has now been for naught. Describing the situation as “a bit of a screw up all round”, Besford will now have to cancel his villa.
Similarly, Ellen Heaney has an upcoming holiday in Greece this year, though this isn’t until August. Though a later holiday, the constantly fluctuating news is still causing emotional strain, especially given she has multiple accommodation and flight bookings.
“We thought we would be able to go to Greece, but now the situation has changed again,” she said. “We don’t know what to tell the children and we are exhausted from constantly having to change our expectations.”
Heaney has also been left disheartened by the last minute nature of announcements from both governments. “We can’t ask for refunds yet as the holiday could still go ahead, but if announcements continue to be made at this short notice it’s unlikely we'll have time to find an alternative holiday if we end up not able to travel in August.”
For some, however, the travel ban has been a blessing in disguise, providing closure in the absence of action from travel companies like Tui and Love Holidays.
NHS worker Kiera Oldroyd booked a July holiday in Greece through Love Holidays at the beginning of March – the first trip she and her partner would be making together. As time went on, her excitement turned to worry as the company left her in the dark over the state of her booking. It wasn’t until she heard the news about the travel ban that she realised her holiday would definitely be cancelled.
“It’s very stressful,” she said. “I work for the NHS so if I don’t need to have time off then I really need to be working, as we are extremely busy during this current situation.” Though “gutted” about the news, Oldroyd added that it was also a slight relief, as it provided her with a definite answer. “It was such a horrible feeling, everything being up in the air.”
Despite being “adamant she would be flying to Greece in a week’s time until Monday afternoon”, her mindset had now changed due to the news. “A part of me was thinking, ‘I’m going to be chilling in 30 degree heat in just over a week’s time’ but then I was also anxious because I didn’t think we would be able to enjoy a holiday like we usually could.”
Ross Moyler, who booked a holiday in Rhodes for July 11 back in January, said he and his family, “have, in effect, been playing a game of chicken with Tui for the last months waiting for them to cancel our holiday and refund us, before we ran out of time to switch our booking to next year.”
The family had “decided not to go on holiday this year”, explained Moyler, but switching to a holiday next year with Tui will leave them out of pocket. Tui, have not been offering full refunds unless a cancellation occurs and similar 2021 packages are pricier than 2020’s offerings.
“We’re very frustrated it has taken until 13 days before we go away to have the Greek government make the decision for them,” said Moyler, though he added that even now, Tui has still to actually cancel their booking.
For many travel agencies, the news has been similarly frustrating. “We were incredibly disappointed to learn that Greece had banned travel until July,” said Islands of Greece, which operates holidays to the country’s popular islands.
“We have many clients desperate to travel on their holidays and hoteliers that are even more desperate to see an income this season for the British market,” they added. “We were so very excited for the announcement yesterday, that in the end failed to happen.”
The continued lack of British tourists in Greece is worrying for many in the sector. “The travel industry is absolutely on its knees right now, having had to refund clients for cancelled holidays, and now we suffer a further blow as our government further delays in announcing any travel corridors.”
Greek holidays didn’t see as much of a rebound as other destinations following the excitement around air bridges.
“Following last week's speculation, our bookings for Greece have not been as buoyant as we’d hoped,” said Oliver Bell of Oliver’s Travels, which specialises in luxury villa holidays. The company’s France, Spain and Italy bookings, in contrast, surged.
This continued reluctance by customers to book a trip to Greece is likely fuelled by previous announcements from the country around the possibility of a quarantine period for those travelling from certain UK airports, he explained.
Despite the disappointment, the news isn’t entirely unexpected. “At all times during this pandemic the Greek Government had talked about mid to end of July for the British to be allowed to enter the country,” said director of Ionian Island Holidays, Alexandros Matsoukis. “The UK was never included in the first wave of visitors to the country, so we had already anticipated this, and delayed the start of our programme until July 19.”
“Events in our own country over the last 10 days, in part around beaches in the South of England and possibly the new lockdown measures in Leicester, will not have gone unnoticed by the Greek Government,” he added.
“Greece has been one of the most successful countries in Europe in controlling the Pandemic, so we fully appreciate they would not want to put their own citizens at risk for the sake of tourism.”
It’s not all doom and gloom for those keen for a Greek holiday, however. “We understand a review will take place before on 15th July, where it’s more likely the restriction on flights from the UK will be lifted,” said Matsoukis.