Ban on flights to Sharm el-Sheikh lifted after four years – so when will UK airlines return?

Hugh Morris
Sharm el Sheikh has long been popular with UK holidaymakers - NeonJellyfish

British holidaymakers will soon be able to return to Sharm el-Sheikh after the Foreign Office lifted its long-standing restrictions on air travel to the popular Red Sea resort.

The British Government said improvements in security procedures at Sharm el-Sheikh Airport and close cooperation between the UK and Egypt on aviation safety means commercial airlines can now operate routes to and from the destination. 

Among the adjustments are believed to be X-ray scanners and a vast wall built earlier this year around the airport complex. 

A ban has been imposed on air travel to the tip of the Sinai peninsula since 2015 in the wake of the suspicious crash of a St Petersburg-bound flight shortly after take off on October 31. 

Announcing the lifting of the restriction, Grant Shapps, secretary of state for transport, said: “The safety and security of British nationals remains our top priority and this decision follows close co-operation between our aviation security experts and their Egyptian counterparts, and improvements in security procedures at the airport.”

The resort was all but empty for years after the ban was introduced Credit: getty

Airlines, including EasyJet and Tui, will now look at how they can return to Sharm el-Sheikh. Tui, which is already operating there with flights to other European nations, said it would reintroduce services from the UK. EasyJet said it would “look at any opportunities”.

Thomas Cook was previously a major operator in the resort, but its capacity will now go elsewhere after it collapsed last month. 

The news will be welcomed by those on the ground in Sharm el-Sheikh. Once a busy and immensely popular year-round destination, the resort has seen visitor numbers plummet. 

While the city has not been explicitly off-limits to UK holidaymakers over the last four years, anyone wishing to visit has had to fly there indirectly or take a ferry from Hurghada. 

The Foreign Office has updated the advice on its Egypt guidance page, but still warns against “a heightened risk of terrorism against aviation”.

“Additional security measures are in place for flights departing from Egypt to the UK,” it says, adding that visitors should expect checkpoints and additional security checks in and around Sharm el-Sheikh. 

Airlines will now look to return to Sharm Credit: getty

The loss of the Metrojet aircraft in 2015 – and the lives of 224 Russian passengers and crew, after what was believed to be an on-board explosion – led to concerns of security deficiencies at Sharm el-Sheikh Airport, prompting the British Government to evacuate tourists from the winter sun destination.

However, there has since been criticism of the UK for keeping the ban in place for so long, while other nations lifted theirs. Earlier this year ahead of a visit to Sharm el-Sheikh by then-Prime Minister Theresa May, Labour MP Stephen Timms, co-chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Egypt, said there was no remaining justification for the ban.

“It’s done great damage to the Egyptian economy. It’s done damage to Britain’s standing in Egypt,” he said. “It’s quite hard to see now – given all the improvements that have taken place – what the justification for it still being there really is.”

In 2017, Timms told Telegraph Travel that Egypt had gone to “considerable lengths to assure adequate security” at Sharm el-Sheikh and that the ban was only still in place because of the Prime Minister.

The restrictions led to a slump in visitor numbers to Egypt, and forced the country’s tourist board to market alternatives such as Hurghada and Marsa Alam. 

In 2017, tourism minister Mohamed Yehia Rashed told Telegraph Travel that “the lights have not switched off in Sharm el-Sheikh” but that its marketing strategy needed to “evolve”.

But, allaying fears that the resort would go to ruin, he added: “The fact that the British doesn’t fly [there], doesn’t mean the rest of the world doesn’t fly to Sharm el-Sheikh.”

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