Devastated staff filed out of Thomas Cook’s head office with their heads down on Monday after the travel firm’s collapse.
Staff could be seen in tears as they left the iconic British holiday company’s HQ in Peterborough, some carrying boxes of their belongings.
The collapse of the world’s oldest travel company late last night left thousands of staff waking up to find themselves out of work.
The 178-year-old firm employed a reported 21,000 staff worldwide. Cabin crew and holiday reps are among those stranded, alongside an estimated 600,000 customers stuck around the world without return flights home.
The UK government has launched plans using other airlines’ jets to repatriate an estimated 150,000 British residents who are among those stranded overseas.
Officials said it marked the biggest repatriation effort in British peacetime history after Thomas Cook buckled under the weight of intense competition, huge debts and a failure to secure a bailout deal in recent months.
Several Thomas Cook employees shared their sadness at the news on social media, with one saying they were “absolutely devastated” to be heading to a Jobcentre after more than two decades at the company.
Another wrote on Facebook that she was “utterly heartbroken,” adding: “I don’t know what I’ll do from here.”
A spokesperson for the British Airline Pilot’s Association (Balpa) said the union would do everything to help staff find other jobs.
The spokesperson said: “While detailed plans to repatriate passengers have been carefully put together and Ministers have and will continue to claim the credit for that, the staff have been stabbed in the back without a second’s thought.
“Despite continuing to keep Thomas Cook going in recent weeks with dignity and integrity while their own futures were being secretly decided we don’t even know if staff will get a pay cheque this month. It is despicable. Thomas Cook pilots and all staff deserve better than this.”
Prime minister Boris Johnson vowed to help get passengers home, but brushed off claims the government should have intervened with a bailout of the company.
"It is a very difficult situation and obviously our thoughts are very much with the customers of Thomas Cook, the holiday makers who may now face difficulties getting home we will do our level best to get them home," he told reporters.