Page last updated at 11:57 GMT, Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Extra planes for stranded Britons

Thailand protest
Pro-government protesters gathered in Bangkok to support the prime minister

Thousands of UK tourists stranded in Thailand are hoping extra flights will finally help them return home.

Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell said major airlines, including Qantas and Emirates, were laying on additional flights with UK government support.

Up to 300,000 people are thought to be stuck in Thailand, with Bangkok's main airport, Suvarnabhumi, closed.

Anti-government protestors are on the eighth day of a blockade, while a top Thai court has banned the ruling party.

Amid an escalating political crisis in the country, Thailand's constitutional court has ordered PM Somchai Wongsawat to step down and dissolve his governing People Power Party and two of its coalition partners after convicting it of fraud during the last election.

But it is unclear if the ruling will end the protests by the People's Alliance for Democracy, which have been blockading Bangkok's airports for the past week, stranding thousands of travellers.

'Defuse unrest'

In a statement released by the Foreign Office, Mr Rammell said the British government was working with international partners "to support efforts to defuse the unrest in Thailand".

We are stuck here without a hope but all the Germans have got home already, the last went on Saturday
Neil Lindsay
British traveller

"Several thousand British travellers remain stranded in Bangkok. Our priorities are to ensure their immediate welfare and to find ways of ending their uncertainty and helping them get home."

Gulf Air, Malaysian Airways, Thai Airways, Cathay Pacific and Silk Airways are also expected to provide additional flights, mainly out of Phuket, he said.

British Embassy staff are paying regular visits to those stranded, offering consular assistance including transferring money from the UK and getting extra supplies of prescription medicine.

However, stranded British holidaymakers have complained of being deserted by embassy officials while tourists of other nationalities were being flown home.

Photographer Neil Lindsay, 53, from Wadebridge in Cornwall, was among 121 Britons of 1,200 Thai Airways passengers moved to a hotel near U-Tapao airfield, about a two-hour drive from Bangkok.

Foreign tourists
Some tourists have been able to fly out of other airports

"We are stuck here without a hope but all the Germans have got home already, the last went on Saturday," he told the Daily Telegraph.

"We just keep getting 'bumped'. It's quite clear that Brits are well down the pecking order when it comes to getting home. I have not seen any British consular officials, but the Aussies have been here in force."

'Reactive approach'

Another stranded British tourist, Steve Thomas, told the BBC he also felt let down by the UK response.

"I queued to get into the British Embassy... to register my whereabouts. Since then I've heard nothing from them.

"Meanwhile, Australians in our hotel have had visits from the embassy and have also been offered flights I understand."

I just want to go home
Suzanne Waddell
British traveller

Suzanne Waddell, from Belfast, who has been stranded for four days after a two-week holiday with friends, said it was "frustrating" not to be given any clear information from her carrier, Thai Airways, or British officials.

"That has been the most disappointing thing. I went to visit them [at the embassy] and they were very relaxed and we were told they would not be doing anything unless the situation worsened.

"It is a very reactive approach and I really don't understand the reasoning for that."

Her airline also kept booking her on "dummy flights" departing from Bangkok's main airport, which she knew would never leave because of the protests, she said.

"I just want to go home," she added.

Dr John Wright, travelling independently with his wife, was due to fly home from Thailand last Thursday. He told the BBC News Channel they had also received little information from British officials.

"I rang them [embassy staff] a couple of times but it was very much a case of 'there, there, it will all be all right in the end'," Dr Wright said.

'Poor conditions'

Briton Philip Howard also described the difficulties his daughter, Nadine, had trying to leave the Thai resort of Phuket at after a two-week holiday with her boyfriend.

The couple had been forced to pay 1,000 to get a flight to Hong Kong, from where they now hoped to fly back to London, he said.

Describing conditions in Thailand, he added: "Nadine told me of a military airfield where thousands of people were waiting for flights.

The only solution that will work is the commercial airlines providing additional flights from other airports
Bill Rammell
Foreign Office minister

"Locals told her not to go there as fights have broken out. Apparently the place is like a refuge camp."

Responding to claims British officials were not doing enough to help UK travellers, Mr Rammell later said embassy staff were "working round-the-clock" and had dealt with 2,500 calls in the last week and spoken to about 500 people.

"We've been particularly focusing on elderly British travellers, trying to get them access to prescription medicine. And at every level ... we are working with the Thai authorities to try to make progress."

With more than 6,000 British nationals in Bangkok, the only solution was the provision of additional flights by commercial airlines from other airports, he added.

Those wishing to travel to or from Bangkok were urged to monitor travel advice and to stay in contact with their tour operator or airline.

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