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UK family sleeping on camp beds told British Airways ‘can’t fly them home until August’

A British family of four are sharing two camp beds in a hotel conference room in Rhodes after being evacuated in the wildfires, saying British Airways told them there were no flights home until August.

Jessie Wales, 45 and from Epsom, Surrey, said she had spent £7,500 on the trip and was now stuck in a hotel on the north of the island packed with more than a hundred tourists sleeping on sun loungers and beds set up around the pool.

The mother of two told i she rang BA but was allegedly told there were no flights back to the UK until 2 August, more than a week away – the date when their return is booked.

Ms Wales, who runs a PR and communications agency, flew to Rhodes on a BA flight on Saturday morning with her husband and children, aged nine and 13, unaware of the wildfires that were spreading through the Greek island.

Upon landing, they boarded a minivan to their hotel, the Mitsis Rodos Maris Resort & Spa, in the south. Halfway through the drive, a hotel representative told passengers they would need to stop because of the wildfires.

A few hours later, the representative came back “in tears” saying it was not safe to proceed and guests would be taken to another Mitsis hotel up north.

Ms Wales said every family was given no more than two camp beds to share in the hotel’s conference room. “That’s all they had and even then there were families sleeping in the corridor, on beds around the pool and sun loungers.”

The next day, more people arrived, meaning she was sleeping “head to head with people you have never met”.

Jessie Wales stranded in Rhodes with her family (Picture: Jessie Wales)
Ms Wales said she was ‘head to head’ with people she didn’t know as tourists were put up in a hotel conference room during wildfires in Rhodes (Photo: Jessie Wales)

She said that staff at the hotel were “doing everything they can”, but when she asked about the likelihood of getting a room in the coming days: “They just looked at us and said ‘if I was you, get yourself home.’”

A video captured by Ms Wales shows children splashing in the pool before the camera pans 180 degrees to show beds set up beside it. “They are all around the pools, any spare space is taken up with beds,” Ms Wales said.

She added that while she tries to put on a “brave face” for her children, it is sometimes hard “to shield them from what’s happening.”

Ms Wales said she got in touch with BA to see if they could get an earlier flight back as “they are all a bit broken from it all” but was told nothing was available. “No one has slept and we just want to go home,” she said. “It’s been a lot. The power keeps going off and people keep arriving, it’s awful and it’s a shame [for tourism] as it’s so beautiful here.”

Jessie Wales stranded in Rhodes with her family (Picture: Jessie Wales)
Ms Wales said while the hotel has no room to accommodate them, it is keeping them fed and watered and doing everything to support (Photo: Jessie Wales)

The power cuts and limited number of outlets meant tourists at Ms Wales’s hotel struggled to even charge their phones to book alternative travel.

Ms Wales praised the “life-saving” efforts of her friend and travel agent Zoe Ray, who managed to find a way home for many of those stranded. The family were able to book a Tui flight on Tuesday, although it cost them an extra £763.50.

Ms Wales said if anyone is to be held accountable for the chaos it is the airlines, who she claimed carried on flying people out despite knowing wildfires were spreading in the popular tourist destination.

Jessie Wales stranded in Rhodes with her family (Picture: Jessie Wales)
Ms Wales’s family had to fork out an additional £763 to get back to the UK after already spending £7,500 on the trip (Picture: Jessie Wales)

“Anyone who flew out after Saturday afternoon knew that the south of the island was being evacuated… When you’re on a plane you don’t know what is happening, the pilot does.”

She said the failure to suspend flights brought “so many people on the island who are now wanting to get off the island… We are quite cross that they kept flying people out”.

Asked whether she had sought compensation or a refund for their ordeal, Ms Wales said she doesn’t have the energy to think about it yet.

“No one has a fight left in them, some people have been walking for six hours, they were sunburnt, children were coughing up as they breathed in the smoke from the fires – now a camp bed sounds like luxury.”

BA told i in a statement: “We’re doing everything we can to help our customers and introduced a flexible booking policy within hours of the news of evacuations on Saturday to enable them to change their flights to come home early from Rhodes or move their booking to a later date if they’re travelling from London.

“This is a fast-moving situation and availability on our flights continues to fluctuate as customers choose what they want to do. Our teams will be in touch with the customer to provide assistance.”

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