The world’s oldest travel firm went bust last night leaving thousands of passengers stranded around the world after a last-ditch rescue deal unravelled. The UK-based Thomas Cook failed to secure at least £200 million in emergency funding from investors and was rebuffed by the British government who had been begged to step in and keep the near 200-year company afloat in a taxpayer-funded rescue.
Thomas Cook’s future has been on the rocks for months – the package holiday and airline business has been struggling for some time and rumours of the firm’s demise have been well documented. Nonetheless, many observers had hoped a deal with outside investors, and in particular, a Chinese company would keep (at least parts of the business) alive.
Instead, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority today said it was planning the largest ever peacetime repatriation effort to bring home stranded tourists from across Europe, the United States and further afield. Hundreds of thousands of passengers will need to be brought home in a huge effort that the CAA says will take at least two weeks and has been codenamed Operation Matterhorn.
Both the repatriation plans and government-backed compensation programme for cancelled holidays and flights will set the British taxpayer back at least £600 million according to some sources. All affected travellers will be fully covered and financially protected from the collapse.
“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 UK,” a spokesperson for the CAA said on Monday morning.
“We have launched, at very short notice, what is effectively one of the UK’s largest airlines, involving a fleet of aircraft secured from around the world. The nature and scale of the operation mean that unfortunately, some disruption will be inevitable. We ask customers to bear with us as we work around the clock to bring them home,” the spokesperson.
Thousands of jobs lost…
But while passengers are being protected, unions have blasted the British government over the sudden loss of thousands of jobs. The British Airline Pilots Associations (BALPA) said staff had been “stabbed in the back without a second’s thought,” describing the revelation that many staffers might not even get their final paycheck as “despicable”.
Meanwhile, the UK’s largest trade union group said the government was “leaving workers and customers high and dry”.
“Instead of stepping in and giving Thomas Cook the breathing space it needed to restructure its finances, the government’s ‘do nothing’ attitude has left workers and customers high and dry while landing taxpayers with a bill of hundreds of millions of pounds,” commented Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union.
McCluskey said his union would be starting legal action over the sudden redundancies despite the fact that Thomas cook has completely halted trading overnight.
Some 1,800 cabin crew represented by the union were left without a job and a similar number of engineers were also affected. Efforts are now being made to see if positions are available at other UK-based airlines.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.