THE UK’s biggest repatriation since World War Two has started today following the collapse of Thomas Cook.
Around 150,000 stranded Brits are being flown home from 53 destinations in 17 countries in the rescue mission costing £100 million.
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.
The first repatriation flight departed New York for Manchester with more than 300 passengers on board at 9.40am. It is estimated to land at 5pm.
All future Thomas Cook bookings have been cancelled, affecting around one million people.
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.
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
- As many as 9,000 British employees among 21,000 staff around the world have lost their jobs
- The largest peacetime repatriation of British citizens – dubbed Operation Matterhorn – has started
- As many as 150,000 British holidaymakers face uncertainty over how they’ll get home
- 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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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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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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.
He said: “I’d describe it as exactly the same as being held hostage.”
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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