Now that the 178-year-old travel company Thomas Cook has ceased operating — cancelling flights and vacations for more than 600,000 travellers worldwide, including more than 150,000 British citizens — the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has stepped in to help repatriate stranded vacationers.
The CAA said Thomas Cook has ceased trading, grounding its four airlines. The company’s 21,000 employees across 16 countries — including 9,000 in the U.K. — will lose their jobs. The aviation authority is asking passengers in the U.K. who have yet to travel to not go to the airport.
“We know that a company with such long-standing history ceasing trading will be very distressing for its customers and employees and our thoughts are with everyone affected by this news,” the CAA said early Monday.
The repatriation scheme is taking place at the request of the British government and will last from Monday, Sept. 23, until Sunday, Oct. 6, “to bring Thomas Cook customers back to the U.K.” A dedicated website — thomascook.caa.co.uk — has been launched to deal with the logistical fallout of the company’s collapse.
The CAA says that it is using a fleet of airplanes from around the world to fly passengers back to the U.K., due to the “unprecedented number of U.K. customers currently overseas.”
“Passengers in a small number of destinations may return on alternative commercial flights,” the CAA said.
Some disruption is “inevitable,” the CAA added, but they “will endeavour to get people home as close as possible to their planned dates.”
Thomas Cook customers who are overseas should not come to the airport “until their flight back to the U.K. has been confirmed on the dedicated website.”
Thomascook.caa.co.uk at times did not open late Sunday night. On it, the instructions indicate that the repatriation flights will only work till Oct. 6.
“After this date, you will have to make your own travel arrangements,” the website said. “From a small number of locations, passengers will have to book their own return flights.”
U.K.’s largest peacetime repatriation
The CAA’s chief executive, Richard Moriarty, described the return of the company’s 150,000 British customers currently overseas as the U.K.’s “largest-ever peacetime repatriation.”
“News of Thomas Cook’s collapse is deeply saddening for the company’s employees and customers, and we appreciate that more than 150,000 people currently abroad will be anxious about how they will now return to the U.K.,” he said in a statement on the CAA website.
As for refunds, the CAA noted that U.K. passengers with future bookings protected by the Air Travel Organisers’ License (ATOL) — a British scheme that protects most air travel holiday packages sold by operators in the U.K. — are “entitled to a full refund for their cancelled holiday.” Travellers currently overseas could also make a claim for the ATOL-protected portion of their holiday “or for out of pocket expenses as a result of delayed flights home.”
The CAA said it would kick off a refund management service — by Sept. 30 — “once the flying operation has progressed.”
The Associated Press reported that most of Thomas Cook’s British customers are protected by the government’s travel insurance program, which ensures travellers can return home if a British-based tour operator fails while they are overseas.
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The website for Condor, a German airline owned by Thomas Cook, noted as of 11:30 p.m. ET Sunday that their flights continue to take off: “Update on current media articles: Condor continues to fly! Flights are operating as scheduled.”
Thomas Cook collapsed after failing to secure rescue funding, and travel bookings for its more than 600,000 global vacationers were canceled early Monday. The veteran travel company has previously blamed a decrease in bookings related to uncertainty around Brexit as one of the factors leading to its debt.
— With files by The Associated Press