Many also face costs amounting to thousands of euros as they are forced to re-book flights and extend their stay due to limited room availability.
A woman was told there were no free rooms until December 22, and other families who found themselves stranded described the sudden change in rules and the quarantined hotel reservation system as “Chaotic” and “unsuitable for use”.
They accuse the government of being totally ill-prepared to support those caught off guard by the changes.
Labor shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper called on the government to urgently address the situation.
South Africa and nine other southern African countries were re-added to the travel red list this week in an attempt to combat the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid19.
Direct flights from South Africa have been initially prohibited A week ago.
Travelers arriving from Red List countries must self-isolate in designated quarantine hotels for 10 days at their own expense.
But many now say they can’t get reservations on the day their flights are due.
Passengers can be fined £ 4,000 for arriving in the UK from a Red List country without a quarantine hotel reservation already in place.
“It was awful, just awful,” says Teresa Martin, from South Africa who has traveled to spend time with her elderly mother whom she has not seen for two years.
She was supposed to return on December 8, but her husband, who called the reservations management company on her behalf from the UK, has now learned there was no availability until December 22.
That would mean she would have to spend Christmas and New Years in a quarantine hotel.
“The trip itself has already been emotional,” she said.
“This turbulence of booking and changing flights and then organizing, finding out where you get your PCR tests and driving 10 miles to go and book it. It is wreaking havoc. “
She has the added concern that if she is to stay in South Africa for that long, she may run out of the medicine she is taking for rheumatoid arthritis.
In addition to stress and emotion, families also face huge bills.
A 10-day stay in a quarantine hotel costs £ 2,285 for an adult in a room, with an additional charge of £ 1,430 per adult and £ 325 per child aged 5-11 in the same room.
Many also have to pay to rearrange flights to try to accommodate days when there are hotel availability, as well as to pay for extended hotel days in South Africa.
This is the situation faced by Hannah Pickersgill and her family, who traveled to Cape Town for a family wedding with her husband, two children, mother and brother.
She was due to return on December 4th but could not get a hotel until December 6th. She then struggled to rearrange her flights for that date due to high demand.
“It means my kids won’t go back to school until January, my son is very upset about it,” she said.
“It made my mother very sick. She is extremely stressed. And we’ve wasted a lot of time and money trying to fix it.
“I cannot stress enough… the incompetence of not having enough hotel rooms for returning travelers. “
She and others also criticized Corporate Travel Management (CTM), the private company responsible for handling hotel reservations, with many saying they struggled to get on the phone.
Nic Bowler and his family were successful in securing a hotel reservation, but their flights were subsequently changed by Virgin and they are having difficulty communicating with anyone to confirm if the hotel reservation can be moved.
“I fully understand that it is a pandemic, I fully understand that things are changing,” he said.
“But the process the government has prescribed is just not right for its purpose, and it’s stressful because it really eats away at family time. “
Although there are over 4,000 quarantine rooms available, the system is not as important as it was during the summer, when more countries were on the red list.
The Arora Hotel group at that time provided around 2,500 rooms in eight different hotels, but currently only offers around 1,500 rooms in three hotels.
Founder and chairman Surinder Arora said it took a huge effort from his staff to get these hotels ready in just days after the sudden announcement last week.
“I think if you asked one of the big brands or one of the biggest companies, they would tell you that it takes us at least a week or two to mobilize,” he said.
Running a hotel involves things like installing specialized cleaning equipment, clearing existing reservations, and massively increasing room service capabilities.
“There’s a lot of planning and you know, especially in today’s climate where you can’t even make all of your deliveries on time, whether it’s laundry, food, staff, these are all big issues. Says Mr. Arora.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Affairs said: “We are rapidly increasing hotel capacity in light of the addition of 10 counties to the Red List, and there will be significant increases in capacity from Monday. “
CTM said in a statement: “CTM is working closely with the 10 countries recently added to the red list where direct flights to the UK were initially banned.
“Frequent airline cancellations and return of direct flights also lead to a high number of change requests from travelers returning to the UK.
“Since the recent redlist changes implemented to slow the spread of the new Omicron variant, more than 2,800 travelers have successfully booked a managed quarantine.
“CTM is working closely with the Department of Health and Welfare and all parties involved in the UK Managed Quarantine program to ensure that transfers, accommodation, testing and security are increased based on capacity on as quickly as possible. “
Yvette Cooper of the Labor Party said: “The government needs to address this issue urgently.
“They shouldn’t be in such a chaotic situation 18 months after the start of this pandemic when they knew from the start that they needed quick contingency plans to deal with new waves of the virus or new ones. variants. ”