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Jet2, Tui, Thomas Cook cancel Rhodes holidays amid criticism over trips during evacuation

Travel companies have cancelled imminent holidays to the Greek island of Rhodes, after coming under fire for continuing to ship British tourists out to the inferno on the popular holiday destination.

Thousands of people have been evacuated from the island as wildfires tear across the south, with some tourists having to abandon their luggage and carry their children to flee on foot.

Despite the emergency, tourists continued arriving on Rhodes as recently as last night, with one telling i she was not told of the fires until she arrived and was transferred immediately from the airport to an evacuation centre.

Jet2 confirmed that it had cancelled all flights and holidays that were due to depart to Rhodes on Sunday. Instead, the five aircraft due to take passengers to Rhodes will fly there empty and bring back stranded holidaymakers.

Thomas Cook also confirmed it had cancelled “immediate departure” holidays to the affected areas in the south of the island.

Jess Bailey, a county councillor from Devon, arrived in Rhodes at 10pm on Saturday evening, only to be taken straight to an evacuation centre because her hotel had been cut off by the flames. She said she was not told by Tui about the wildfires around the hotel and was shocked that they had not cancelled the trip.

“It was a Tui flight, and they never said a word on that flight. They said: ‘have a lovely stay, it’s lovely and warm’. Not a hint of, ‘there’s fires raging, maybe this isn’t such a good idea’. That’s what I’ve heard from the other flights as well; nobody said anything on the flights. I didn’t realise that the fires were in Rhodes otherwise, I’d have pushed more to not go,” she told i.

Ms Bailey said she had tried to change her holiday last weekend due to the blistering heatwave sweeping the Mediterranean, but had been told by Tui that she was unable to do so because it was under seven days until the trip.

The school room where Jess Bailey and her family are staying in Rhodes. (Photo: Supplied)

When she arrived at the airport, it was a “state of utter bedlam” with an estimated 1,000 people gathered.

“Some people got shipped off to some hotels which I guess were okay, in the north, but the ones in the south were either evacuated or burnt. My hotel was really far south and it was cut off so you couldn’t actually get to it because the road was shut.

“It was chaos and loads and loads of people at the airport. I went to the front and the Tui rep said, ‘you can’t get to your hotel because the roads are closed because of the fire. Just go and wait over there’. I waited and then I tried to speak to somebody else. They said, ‘go and join that queue over there and they’ll take you to the evacuation centre’.”

Ms Bailey, her husband and two daughters aged 11 and 15 are now staying in a school, sleeping on mattresses on the floor, along with several hundred other tourists. She praised the local community and volunteers for the support they had provided, with teachers and locals bringing food and supplies.

The mother-of-two has booked a flight from the island out to the East Midlands – several hours from where she lives, but the swiftest route back to the UK – for Sunday evening, but is not sure it will go ahead.

She said: “I don’t trust Tui, I don’t want to go somewhere south [on the island] where I’m then going to be cut off. They might tell me it’s going to be okay, but I don’t have any confidence in them. Straightaway last night I went on and booked some flights back for tonight, but I don’t know what’s going on at the airport.

“The flight is to East Midlands and I live in Devon, but I was just panicked really by what I saw.”

Ms Bailey said she was shocked that Tui had not cancelled her holiday or warned her of the situation, saying that the evacuation choas was “completely avoidable.”

“It’s not like we’d been here for a few days and something really unexpected happened,” she said. “Their response has been appalling. Abject failures. They completely failed.”

A Tui spokesperson said: “We’re continuing to closely monitor the wildfires in Rhodes which have led to the evacuation of a number of hotels in the South of the island.

“We appreciate how distressing and difficult it is for customers who have been evacuated and ask they follow the advice of the local authorities who are managing tourist movements in impacted areas.

“Our resort teams are doing everything they can to support customers, working closely with the relevant authorities.
We have cancelled all outbound flights to Rhodes up to and including Tuesday, and passengers due to travel on Wednesday will be offered a fee-free amend to another holiday.

“Those customers currently in Rhodes will return on their intended flight home. The safety and well-being of our customers and teams remains our top priority.”

Jet2 confirmed its flights to Rhodes were suspended on Sunday, but it is not clear whether those booked later in the week will go ahead.

“We will be contacting affected customers to update them, and to let them know that they will be provided with a full refund and the opportunity to rebook,” a spokesperson said.

“We are keeping the situation under constant review, and we will continue to make decisions in the best interests of our customers.”

While “immediate” holidays in the fire-ravaged south of the island have been cancelled, Thomas Cook said those booked in the north of the island were still going ahead as planned.

Thomas Cook also said it was beginning to contact customers with holidays booked in the affected areas later in the week to assess the situation.

The fire service on the island, Hellenic Fire Corps, said it was the worst crisis the service had dealt with and admitted the situation on the ground was “a mess”.

Fire Service spokesman Yannis Artopios said more wildfires could break out as temperatures are set to reach 45°C on Sunday.

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