Islanders are “effectively stranded” in the UK and representations are being made to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and the Ministry of Defence.
MLA Roger Spink said on Thursday (11 August) that there could be disruption to airbridge bookings for “a month or two”, following the cancellation of an airbridge flight at the beginning of the week and the complete loss of that flight’s seats from FIG’s allocation.
MLA Spink said a lot of people were “effectively stranded” in the UK and that representations were being made to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, as well as the Ministry of Defence.
In a statement issued on Thursday afternoon, British Forces South Atlantic Islands said:
“MOD are aware of the pressures being felt by all of our travelling community, and the MOD team here and in UK are currently working options. We have already been able to offer FIG a number of additional seats on the next northbound flight on Saturday. As per most flights, MOD will continue to help and assist with additional allocations to FIG where it’s possible to do so. However, our primary focus must, and will continue to be, about supporting our MOD mission of the defence and security of the Falkland Islands.”
MLA Spink said he had been told 31 seats were allocated on a per-flight basis and a cancelled flight does not mean a double allocation would be made on the next flight. He said:
“In the past, MoD have been very accommodating and have actually tried to get the people on the flight that was cancelled onto the next two or three flights to make sure they get to the Islands. On this occasion we’re advised by MoD, that certainly the next two flights, they are only able to give us the allocation of 31 on the flight which is what we started off with.”
MLA Spink said he asked the BFSAI Command Secretary if the MoD would offer to pay some of the additional costs being run up by people (including families) running up costs in the UK and whether there would be any movement on the allocation of seats.
Some additional seats have been allocated northbound, which will enable people to leave the Islands. However, MLA Spink said the “biggest headache” is people being stuck in the UK. He said the problem “concertinas” and “could go on for months”.
One partial solution being tried is for people travelling on FIG business to go via South America on LATAM flights, releasing seats on the airbridge. MLA Spink said if the Sao Paolo flight had been continued things would be in a better position, but this had been stopped by the Argentinian government, making the Islands even more dependent on the airbridge.
MLA Spink emphasised the flight had been cancelled due to a technical failure. He said:
“Anywhere else in the world, if an airline strands people somewhere, then they do actually make efforts to get them home.”
A passenger who had been on board Sunday’s flight described what had happened at the time:
“We sat on the runway for a good couple of hours and there was a problem with the comms on the plane so the crew couldn’t communicate with each other. I don’t know if they got it fixed or not, but then the crew hours went over, so we were all taken off. By about 5 o’clock in the morning on Monday morning, we finally got into the Gateway. Then we were told it was delayed and then we were told it was cancelled and then we were all sort of told to leave the Gateway and get on with it.”
She said there were people with children on the flight and that some passengers might not have had much money left at the end of their trips.
Asked what advice he could give to passengers stuck in the UK, MLA Roger Spink said that the Falkland Islands Government Office in London was there to help Islanders in difficulty and he encouraged people to contact FIGO if they have a problem.