THE extent of the Thomas Cook repatriation mission is shown in this extraordinary graphic – as dozens of jets begin flying back the 150,000 British tourists left stranded by the travel giant’s collapse.
Britain’s biggest ever peacetime repatriation – involving around 1,000 flights from 53 airports and in 18 countries – is expected to last a fortnight and free flights will be offered to the majority of passengers abroad.
Currently most of the UK’s marooned holidaymakers are in Europe, with around 50,000 Brits in Greece, 30,000 in the Canary Islands, 20,000 in Spain, and 15,000 in Cyprus.
The rescue programme, dubbed Operation Matterhorn, will also rescue customers from Thomas Cook’s long-haul destinations such as those in the US, the Caribbean and Cuba.
A fleet of 40 aircraft charted by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) are leading the mission, using jets from as far away as Malaysia.
The first such rescue flight departed New York for Manchester with more than 300 passengers on board this morning and is due to land at 5pm.
A total of 16,000 passengers were expected to have returned by the end of the day, with all returned by October 6.
Around one million people have been impacted after the travel operator ceased trading in the early hours of this morning – cancelling all flights and holidays with immediate effect.
The company’s 21,000 employees, including 9,000 in the UK, have been made redundant.
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.
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.
A Brit couple set to marry in Cyprus were among the tourists to be hit hard by the firm’s collapse.
Laura Thorne, 32, and partner Lee Grant, 43, had 61 guests flying out and have forked out £80,000 in total to Thomas Cook – but now might have to pull the plug on their big celebrations.
Lucy Jessop from Hull was due to return from a two-week holiday in Mexico on a Thomas Cook flight tomorrow.
She said she was “initially worried” about the situation but was relieved that alternative flights are being arranged.
“It’s the employees of Thomas Cook and all those due to go on holiday I feel for,” she added. “We were the lucky ones, I suppose.”
Elsewhere, tearful passengers on one of the operator’s final flights cheered on dedicated staff who remained professional throughout the highly-charged journey.
Richard Moriarty, the chief executive of the CAA, said the Government had asked his organisation to launch “the UK’s largest ever peacetime repatriation” and asked for customers’ understanding for “inevitable disruption” ahead.
The majority of the £100 million cost of the programme will be met from funds held by the Atol scheme, with the Government also making a contribution.
Atol provides protection to customers on package holidays when travel firms collapse, although passengers who made flight-only bookings with Thomas Cook are also being brought home at no extra charge.
Thomas Cook package holiday customers will also see the cost of their accommodation covered by Atol.
Those who have not yet started their package holiday will be given a refund, while those on flight-only bookings are advised to seek reimbursement from their credit or debit card provider, or make a claim through their travel insurer.
Chief executive Peter Fankhauser said his company had “worked exhaustively” to salvage a rescue package.
He said: “I know that this outcome will be devastating to many people and will cause a lot of anxiety, stress and disruption.
“I would like to apologise to our millions of customers, and thousands of employees, suppliers and partners who have supported us for many years.”
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One of the world’s oldest and largest travel companies, the firm had been trading for 178 years – having been established in 1841 by a cabinet maker who organised a day trip for temperance movement supporters.
As of this year the group employed 21,000 people in 16 countries, operated 105 aircraft and 200 own-brand hotels and resorts.
Thomas Cook customers are advised to visit the CAA’s dedicated website, thomascook.caa.co.uk, for more information about what they should do next.
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]
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