Only 13 days to go to bring back 135,000 stranded Thomas Cook passengers

Lianna Brinded
Head of Yahoo Finance UK
Photo: Thomas Cook

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the UK government have just 13 more days to bring back 135,000 stranded passengers after the death of major tour operator Thomas Cook (TCG.L) led to the biggest ever peacetime repatriation of British people.

The CAA said in a statement on Tuesday morning that it has brought back 95% of the people that were due to return yesterday — 14,700 passengers — and that a further 16,500 people across 74 flights are scheduled to be repatriated today.

The programme, called Operation Matterhorn, has scheduled more than 1,000 flights and will continue until Sunday 6 October. It is estimated to cost £100m ($124.3m).

READ MORE: Thomas Cook is dead and 150,000 UK holidaymakers are stranded

CAA chairwoman Dame Deirdre Hutton said in a follow-up interview to the BBC from the CAA’s statement:

“We ran 64 flights, we brought back just under 15,000 people. That was over 90% of those we intended to bring back, which is actually pretty good for a first day. But I’m conscious that we’ve got a huge job to do still because that’s about 8% of the total — but a reasonable start.”

“There were some operational problems and we’ll continue to see those, so again I ask people to bear with us as we deal with the bumpiness of this,” she added.

The sorry saga of the failure of Thomas Cook

People are seen walking past a Thomas Cook branch in central London. Photo: Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

On Monday, Thomas Cook finally collapsed after months of trying to seal bailout cash from Chinese conglomerate Fosun and a number of other firms.

It led to an immediate cessation of trading — stranding 150,000 passengers across the globe and putting 22,000 jobs from around the world at risk, of which 9,000 are in the UK.

READ MORE: Hedge funds set to make millions from Thomas Cook collapse

Thomas Cook has been under pressure to keep up with the evolving travel industry for some time. It was a pioneer of the package holiday — combining flights, accommodation, and sometimes other perks such as food into one bundle.

But, while more and more travel companies became online-only operators, Thomas Cook’s business model still had costly overheads, such as 500 physical travel agencies.

It also ran up debts of £1.2bn and made a first half loss of £1.5bn as it battled a weak bookings market and asset writedowns and faced a cash crunch.

There were job cuts and store closures and the group put its airline business up for sale. It also blamed a heat-wave in northern Europe last summer, putting holidaymakers off last-minute deals, as well as Brexit and terrorist attacks in Tunisia.

READ MORE: Crying staff leave Thomas Cook HQ as company collapses

After initially managing to secure an emergency takeover in August, in which it agreed to sell the majority of its tour operator business and a stake in its airline business to Fosun, it begged for another £200m in the last few days to help save the business. It was unsuccessful.

What happens to the passengers?

Passengers of British travel group Thomas Cook queue at Son Sant Joan airport in Palma de Mallorca on September 23, 2019. Photo: JAIME REINA/AFP/Getty Images

The CAA and the UK government are working to bring back 150,000 people “as close as possible” to their original return date. Nearly 15,000 people have already been repatriated in the last day.

The CAA has all the information here on details of each flight. According to CAA figures, there have been 1.8 million unique visitors and 6.8 million page views to the dedicated website.

The ATOL scheme also covers those who booked package holidays: it will pay for your accommodation abroad and your flight home if the airline has ceased operating. It will also refund you for your holiday if it is booked for in the future.

However, if you have only booked a flight, you will have to speak to your credit card company to gain a refund. You may also be covered by travel insurance.

The UK government also has a dedicated website for all affected holidaymakers.