Holidaymakers stranded by the collapse of Thomas Cook, the world’s oldest travel firm, desperately scrambled for information on Monday on how to get home, as Britain mounted its largest peacetime repatriation effort.
At airports around the world travelers scoured mobile phones or quizzed officials for travel updates as they waited in long queues beneath flight boards showing flights delayed or canceled.
“Nightmare, nightmare, stressed,” said British holidaymaker Nick, as he awaited information at Palma airport on the Spanish island of Mallorca.
“Not what we wanted really before going home. But what can you do? Other people have lost their jobs, so we’re not as bad (off) as some other people,” he said, with two young children – an 18-month-old and 12-year-old – in tow.
He and his family had been due to fly back to the northeastern English city of Newcastle on Sunday evening but now hoped to fly to Manchester on Monday evening and then to travel the 240 km back to their home city by coach.
Scottish tourists hoping to fly back to Glasgow said they now expected to head to the central English city of Birmingham, 400 km away.
“I’m very anxious because I have sore legs so I don’t know how… I’m going to get to Glasgow if they take us to Birmingham or somewhere else. So it’s going to be very difficult and a long day and I’m very tired,” said one woman in a wheelchair.
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The British government has pledged to get an estimated 150,000 stranded British holidaymakers home in the biggest such repatriation operation since World War Two, but that is no consolation for many others whose holiday plans lie in ruins.
“We’re absolutely gutted, we’ve looked forward to this for a long time, had the wedding in July so it’s been another couple of months waiting for this,” said Simon, who had been due to go on honeymoon with his wife Polly from London’s Gatwick Airport.
He said he felt very sorry for the staff at his local Thomas Cook travel agency who he said had been helpful.
“Must be awful for them as well, coming up to Christmas as well. Yeah, I feel very sorry for them… I wish the government had maybe stepped in… It could have been done I think, but there’s nothing we can do now. Just have to go home and make the most of it.”
Many travelers complained of a lack of information.
“Obviously the customer services you couldn’t get a hold of. The travel company we were traveling with, you can’t get a hold of them,” said Steve Tarrant, who had planned to fly to Cancun, Mexico, from Manchester Airport.
“So we just took it upon ourselves to book another flight,” he said, at an extra cost of 1,200 pounds ($1,490).
British tourists stranded in Greece also complained of being left in limbo.
“There’s a sign saying that Thomas Cook customers should get in touch with their agency, but you don’t get through to anybody because it doesn’t exist. So how can you do that?” said David Midson, holidaying on the island of Corfu.
Even if additional flights are being laid on, there is no news about airport transfers to get them there, he said.
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“We’ve only got tomorrow to try and make plans to get to the airport,” he said. “I wish I had brought a driving license, because I can’t get a taxi.”
His wife Lianne said the couple had happily holidayed three times with Thomas Cook.
“We haven’t had any issues with them before. You get your odd holiday wobbles anyway but nothing like this.”