EXHAUSTED Brits have touched down as the first Thomas Cook repatriation flights landed in the UK today.
Hundreds of holidaymakers have now landed at Gatwick and Manchester Airports from Croatia, Turkey and New York – still just a fraction of the 150,000 stranded Brits who need rescuing after the travel giant dramatically ceased trading early this morning.
Mick Fraser and his wife Maria, from East Grimstead, were two of the first people off the charter Freebird Airlines flight plane after it landed at around 3.15pm.
Tube driver Mr Fraser said they had arrived back in the UK about 10 hours later than originally planned.
But the 51-year-old praised the Thomas Cook staff for keeping them well informed.
He said: “The reps were good as gold, they kept us fully informed. You can’t fault the Thomas Cook local reps.”
A rescue fleet of more than 40 jumbos will be bringing back holidaymakers from 53 destinations in 17 countries in the biggest repatriation since World War Two.
The company’s 21,000 employees, including 9,000 in the UK, have been made redundant.
The 178-year-old British travel firm had until 11.59pm last night to pay the £200million it owed its creditors or else they’d go under.
Travellers expecting to board Thomas Cook planes in the UK today have been told to stay at home as ALL flights are grounded permanently.
What we know so far…
- Thomas Cook has ceased trading after failing to secure a last-ditch rescue deal
- Customers due to fly out of the UK with Thomas Cook today have been told to stay at home
- Thomas Cook planes are heading back to their UK bases and are being grounded
- As many as 9,000 British employees among 21,000 staff around the world stand to lose their jobs
- The largest peacetime repatriation of British citizens – dubbed Operation Matterhorn – will begin in the coming hours
- The first of 150,000 British holidaymakers returned home today at the start of the two-week mission
- Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the liquidation of Thomas Cook as a “very difficult situation” and vowed his Government would do its “level best” to get Brit holidaymakers home
- Read our Thomas Cook live blog for all the latest news and updates
Announcing it was ceasing trading, Thomas Cook said on its website: “All future flights and holidays are cancelled.”
The brief statement added: “A dedicated support service is being provided by The Civil Aviation Authority to assist customers overseas and those in the UK with future bookings.”
Worried customers were asked to visit www.thomascook.caa.co.uk for more information – although the site has crashed several times.
Devastated Thomas Cook staff spoke of their “heartbreak” at the firm’s collapse today and told of their “dream job going in the blink of an eye”.
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A passenger one of the last flights to land at London Gatwick this morning said they felt emotional for Thomas Cook staff.
She said: “Some of the cabin crew looked like they’d had a little cry. They didn’t know at the start of the journey if they’d still have a job at the end.”
One video on another flight showed cabin crew asking customers to shout “Good luck Thomas Cook” before the firm went bust.
Staff were seen hugging each other in tears at the company’s headquarters in Cambridgeshire this morning.
Many looked tearful as they arrived at the headquarters, which employs around 1,000 people.
A fleet of 40 aircraft has been charted by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to lead the repatriation mission – an operation twice as big as that launched two years ago when Monarch Airlines collapsed – using jets from as far away as Malaysia.
It is expected to last two weeks and free flights will be offered to the majority of Thomas Cook’s 150,000 passengers currently abroad.
Only those booked on package holidays are officially protected under the Air Travel Organisers’ Licence (Atol) scheme.
Those travelling on “flight only” breaks would normally be expected to find and pay for their own return flights.
However the Department for Transport said that “given the extent the disruption” the repatriation will cover all Thomas Cook customers. It is expected to cost the taxpayer up to £600 million.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the liquidation of Thomas Cook as a “very difficult situation” and vowed his Government would do its “level best” to get Brit holidaymakers home.
The CAA warned: “Due to the significant scale of the situation, some disruption is inevitable.”
The watchdog added in a statement that it “will endeavour to get people home as close as possible to their planned dates.”
It was unclear what will happen to the firm’s 400,000 foreign customers now stranded in resorts around the world.
Mike Churcher, 63, who is currently on a Thomas Cook package holiday with his wife and 22-year-old son at the Royal Wings hotel in Antalya, Turkey, said he feared being thrown out of his hotel.
He told the Guardian: “There’s no information. It’s all very stoic – we’re all stiff upper lip, they’re all tight-lipped…we don’t think they’ve been paid for our holiday [by Thomas Cook] yet so we’re worried they may throw us out. The Royal Wings staff are being very nice now though.”
Transport Secretary Grant Schapps added: “Thomas Cook’s collapse is very sad news for staff and holidaymakers.
“The Government and UK CAA is working round the clock to help people.
“Our contingency planning has helped acquire planes from across the world – some from as far away as Malaysia – and we have put hundreds of people in call centres and at airports.
“But the task is enormous, the biggest peacetime repatriation in UK history.
“So there are bound to be problems and delays.”
He said he was not convinced a £250 million public bailout would have saved the travel agent.
He told the BBC: “I fear it would have kept them afloat for a very short period of time and we would have been back in the position of needing to repatriate them in any case.”
Tips for tourists
Q: I’m out of the country on a Thomas Cook holiday – what happens now?
A: The Civil Aviation Authority’s Operation Matterhorn will coordinate the repatriation of customers at the end of their holiday.
Q: I only bought Thomas Cook flights. Am I still protected?
A: No. Unfortunately, only package holiday customers are covered by the company’s Atol licence. Rival airlines may offer special rescue fares.
Q: I am on a Thomas Cook holiday and my hotel is insisting I pay them again. What do I do?
A: Refuse to pay. You have already paid Thomas Cook. The hotelier will have to apply via Atol.
Q: I have booked a Thomas Cook holiday? What happens now they’ve gone bust?
A: Anyone who has booked a package holiday is also covered by Atol and can apply to the CAA for their money back.
A Thomas Cook plane was “seized” at Manchester Airport with a “Notice of Detention of Aircraft” for non-payment of airport charges.
Thomas Cook’s chief executive Peter Fankhauser said his company had “worked exhaustively” to salvage a rescue package.
He said the tour operator’s collapse was a “matter of profound regret” as he apologised to the company’s “millions of customers, and thousands of employees”.
Thomas Cook – which began in 1841 with a one-day train excursion in England – failed to convince lenders to cut the money it owed to see them through the winter period.
The devastating news came after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisted none of the 150,000 holidaymakers currently abroad with the tour giant would be left “stranded”.
But he sparked trade union fury by signalling the Government would NOT be pumping in a £200million bailout.
He said: “We don’t systematically step in with taxpayers’ money when businesses are going under unless there’s a good strategic interest for doing so.”
Sources told The Sun that Ministers had been working with the aviation watchdog on contingency plans for weeks.
The salvage scenario has been dubbed Operation Matterhorn.
One insider said: “We’re ready if we’re needed. The key is that not everyone will have to come home straight away if it comes to that.
“People will be able to finish their holidays.”
The Government’s desperate hunt for spare jumbos has been harder by the forced grounding of the Boeing 737 Max over safety fears.
Worried holidaymakers spent yesterday frantically trying to work out if they would be booted out of their hotel – as creditors and directors thrashed out last-ditch survival plans.
Guests at one hotel in Tunisia were allegedly locked in by security guards as staff demanded extra money – worried they won’t be paid by Thomas Cook.
Ryan Farmer, from Leicestershire, said the hotel had on Saturday afternoon summoned all guests who were due to leave to go to reception “to pay additional fees”.
With many tourists refusing to pay on the grounds they had already paid Thomas Cook, security guards were keeping the hotel’s gates shut, refusing to allow guests out, or to let new visitors enter.
“We can’t leave the hotel. I’d describe it as exactly the same as being held hostage,” Mr Farmer said.
Furious Labour MPs and union leaders demanded Ministers save the holiday giant – claiming the cost of the company going bust would run above £600 million in redundancy and pension costs.
Critics said the Government appeared to have learned nothing since the Monarch collapse in 2017.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said today it was the Conservatives’ “ideological bias” against state intervention that prevented the Government acting.
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Pilots union Balpa yesterday: “Thomas Cook is at the last chance saloon today and decisions about staff and passengers are being taken in secret.
“It’s a much bigger scale than Monarch.
“There is a real risk that if the worst comes to the worst proper arrangements may not be in place for the repatriation programme and staff are still working while not knowing if they have a job or will even get paid for this month.”
A Thomas Cook pilot’s family members wave as a flight departed Manchester Airport yesterday – among the last in the company’s 178-year history[/caption]
Online flight trackers this morning showed Thomas Cook planes making their way back to their UK bases to be grounded[/caption]
'Profound regret': Thomas Cook CEO Dr Peter Fankhauser on the company's collapse
“Although a deal had been largely agreed, an additional facility requested in the last few days of negotiations presented a challenge that ultimately proved insurmountable.
“It is a matter of profound regret to me and the rest of the board that we were not successful.
“I would like to apologise to our millions of customers, and thousands of employees, suppliers and partners who have supported us for many years.
“Despite huge uncertainty over recent weeks, our teams continued to put customers first, showing why Thomas Cook is one of the best-loved brands in travel.
“Generations of customers entrusted their family holiday to Thomas Cook because our people kept our customers at the heart of the business and maintained our founder’s spirit of innovation.
“This marks a deeply sad day for the company which pioneered package holidays and made travel possible for millions of people around the world.”
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