TUI to the Rescue Tour Operators Bringing Thousands of Stranded Germans Home

Germany has never seen a repatriation effort like this. By late Tuesday, German tour operators intend to bring 35,000 German tourists stranded abroad back home. Most of them are taking specially chartered flights, while the less fortunate are making the long journey by bus.

The German tour operators TUI and Rewe are making massive efforts to bring stranded German tourists back home.

The German tour operators TUI and Rewe are making massive efforts to bring stranded German tourists back home.

The rising number of specially permitted flights in Europe is making it possible for more and more German vacationers stuck abroad to make their way back home. On Tuesday, the German tour operators TUI and Rewe plan to fly tens of thousands of stranded tourists back to Germany in a repatriation effort unique in the country's history.

TUI, Germany's largest tour operator, alone will be bringing back 20,000 tourists. "Doing so will mean that there are practically no TUI guests in Mediterranean vacation countries waiting to get back home," a TUI spokesman said on Tuesday. "We have cancelled all takeoffs from Germany until midnight, as the repatriation effort has priority." As part of the effort, TUIfly, the company's own airline, has chartered 15 planes, including two jumbo jets, to join its own fleet of 19 planes.

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All of the TUI customers waiting to return to Germany from the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands were already flown back home on Tuesday morning. Likewise, 17 planes were dedicated to helping ferry about 2,500 vacationers from the western Mediterranean island of Mallorca to airports in Hanover, Leipzig, Cologne and Düsseldorf.

The ash cloud coming from the Eyjafjalljökull volcano in Iceland has disrupted the travel plans of more than 200,000 Germans. About half of these are stranded abroad, while the other half have not been able to leave Germany for planned vacations.

Hoping for Normalization

Beginning on Wednesday, TUI plans to return to its normal flight schedule. Travelers scheduled to fly from Germany on Wednesday will be informed of any change in flight times. To aid travelers, the company has set up a hotline at 0511-567 80000.

Between Sunday and early Tuesday, TUI had already used a convoy of coaches to bring home approximately 4,000 Germans vacationing in Spain to Frankfurt. Each of the coaches was manned by three drivers, who took turns at the wheel so the vehicles could drive non-stop. Travelers were held up for what was often hours, however, when the coaches stopped at the French-German border to allow them to eat dinner, take a walk or nap on the bus.

"We used the delay to make sure that no coaches would arrive between 10 p.m. and 4:30 a.m., as that would have made it impossible for most travelers to continue their journey by air or rail," the TUI spokesman explained. The thoughtfulness the company has put into returning its clients to Germany is understandable given the fact that it is contractually obliged to get vacationers back home. The flight ban is costing it almost €7 million ($9.5 million) a day.

Rewe Using Coaches and Ferries

Tour operator Rewe Touristik said it expected to get 90 percent of its stranded tourists back to Germany by Tuesday evening. Almost 15,000 people have been stuck in their holiday destinations because of the ash plume, Rewe said, adding that it was the biggest repatriation effort in the company's history.

Rewe's subsidiaries including ITS, Jahn Reisen, Tjaereborg and Dertour were using specially hired planes, buses and ferries to bring home holidaymakers. Some 5,000 tourists are stranded in Spain alone, Rewe said, and more than 3,000 have been waiting for a flight home from Egypt, Turkey and Tunisia since Friday. A total of 4,500 tourists are stuck in faraway destinations in the Caribbean, Asia or North America. They are being flown either to airports in Germany or in other European countries not affected by airspace closures.

Thomas Cook wants to fetch back 10,000 customers with special flights on Wednesday. The company is organizing 15 flights to Antalya, Djerba, Monastir, Tenerife and Hurghada. The tour operator had already flown back 2,500 travelers on Monday.

Aircraft of various airlines brought customers back to Germany and Austria from the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Kenya as well as Antalya, Tenerife, Malaga, La Palma and Mallorca. The passengers were brought to Germany by coach from the Austrian airports.

Air Traffic Resumes Gradually

Thomas Cook subsidiary Condor also resumed regular flight services on Tuesday morning, the discount airline said. The first Boeing 767 with 191 passengers left Frankfurt airport for Palma de Mallorca at 07:30 a.m. on Tuesday with the aim of bringing back some 270 passengers. More than 20 additional flights have been organized to bring people back from the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Mexico, Thailand and Kenya.

Air traffic resumed only gradually in Germany on Tuesday. A spokeswoman for Lufthansa said Germany's largest airline expected to operate 200 flights on Tuesday. She said that was far below normal flight operations but that most long-distance flights were taking off and that services were beginning to resume on domestic German and European routes as well.

Lufthansa's smaller rival, Air Berlin, also tried to operate as many as possible of its planned 650 flights. But a spokesman said much depended on how many airports would remain open during the day. The airlines received special permission on Monday to operate flights under special visual flight rules, whereby planes are flown underneath the ash plume.

German airspace will remain officially closed until at least 8 p.m. (1800 GMT) on Tuesday. Tour operators and airlines advised travelers to check Web sites and use telephone hotlines to get up-to-date information.

cro/jtw -- with wires


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