Historic airlift to be launched as Thomas Cook collapses
Travel agent goes bust leaving more than 150,000 holidaymakers stranded
The biggest ever peacetime repatriation is underway after the travel agent Thomas Cook collapsed.
After the UK Civil Aviation Authority said the 178-year old tour operator has “ceased trading with immediate effect,” the task began to bring more than 150,000 British holidaymakers home.
Commenting as the company entered compulsory liquidation, chief executive Peter Fankhauser, said it was a “matter of profound regret”. With 22,000 jobs at risk worldwide, including 9,000 in the UK he apologised to the firm's “thousands of employees” and “millions of customers”.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps urged affected tourist to be “understanding with staff” as the “enormous” task begins to bring people home. An emergency operation, codenamed Operation Matterhorn, has been set up to bring home Brits currently on holiday with the firm.
Shapps said that the government and Civil Aviation Authority have hired dozens of charter planes to fly customers home free of charge. The Department for Transport said stranded tourists will be brought home “as close as possible” to their booked return date.
Airlines including British Airways and easyJet will join the “airlift” for holidaymakers currently in mainland Europe, north Africa, the Middle East, US and Caribbean, The Guardian says.
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A last-ditch meeting between Thomas Cook executives and stakeholders including the firm’s largest shareholder, Chinese conglomerate Fosun, came to a close after 5pm yesterday, ending talks that began at 9am.
Confirmation came at 2am, when the Civil Aviation Authority announced that the world’s oldest holiday company had gone into administration and that all flights and bookings had been cancelled.
However, there was confusion until the end. The Independent points out that at 11.30pm, Thomas Cook sold a package holiday to Greece: a bargain £187 for a week in Corfu in October, and shortly after midnight, the firm’s Twitter account reassured a passenger booked for Monday morning: “Our flights and holiday operations are operating as normal.”
The company was founded in 1841 by Derbyshire cabinet-maker Thomas Cook. The first Thomas Cook holiday took customers 12 miles by train from Leicester to a temperance meeting in Loughborough. After the Second World War, the company thrived as the era of the package holiday dawned.
Recently, the iconic travel agent has struggled to cope with a £1.7bn debt burden, eventually leaving administration as the only option. It officially enters administration when the London stock exchange opens at 8am this morning.
There are hopes that Operation Matterhorn will go smoothly after a similar rescue when Monarch went bust in 2017. Over the course of two weeks, the CAA chartered 560 flights from 24 different airlines, and 98% of Monarch passengers were flown home on the same day they were originally booked to return.
The CAA has launched a dedicated website to provide information for travellers who are stuck.