Thomas Cook halts operations, stranding passengers

Thomas Cook halts operations, stranding passengers

Planes with the Thomas Cook logo are pictured at Duesseldorf Airport, Germany, Monday. (Reuters photo)
Planes with the Thomas Cook logo are pictured at Duesseldorf Airport, Germany, Monday. (Reuters photo)

LONDON: Tour operator and airline Thomas Cook said on Monday that it had collapsed, leaving hundreds of thousands of travellers stranded and scrambling to find a way home, after last-minute negotiations to obtain necessary financing for the debt-ridden company fell apart.

"We are sorry to announce that Thomas Cook has ceased trading with immediate effect," the company said in a post on Twitter, and the Civil Aviation Authority in Britain said that all Thomas Cook bookings, including flights and holidays, had been cancelled.

The liquidation of the world’s oldest travel company has set in motion what was being described as the biggest peacetime repatriation in British history. More than 150,000 Britons were left to seek alternative transport. The BBC reported that the government had chartered 45 jets to get them home. Airlines including easyJet and Virgin were providing planes, the BBC said, with some being flown in from as far away as Malaysia.

"The Government and the Civil Aviation Authority are now working together to do everything we can to support passengers due to fly back to the UK with Thomas Cook between 23 September 2019 and 6 October 2019," the Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement on its website.

The aviation authority told passengers who were booked on Thomas Cook Airlines to not go to British airports "as your flight will not be operating" and warned that the repatriation effort would not include any outbound flights from Britain.

An estimated 600,000 people were believed to be stranded around the world, according to the BBC, and it was not clear what would happen to those who are not British.

The company was struggling with debts approaching £2 billion pounds (nearly $2.5 billion), forcing it to enter negotiations with shareholders and creditors to obtain at least an additional £200 million pounds that eventually failed. With no other choice, Thomas Cook ceased operations.

Countries all over the world are taking action to help their holidaymakers, according to Reuters.

The UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), regulator and government have a fleet of planes ready to start bringing home more than 150,000 British customers abroad over the next two weeks.

In France, Entreprises de Voyage said that about 10,000 French tourists could be affected by the bankruptcy of Thomas Cook while Norwegian subsidiary Ving said that currently 8,685 Norwegians are on its tours.

The Norwegian Travel Guarantee Fund, an insurance scheme that is compulsory for tour operators, issued a statement saying it will ensure any passengers traveling with Thomas Cook's Norwegian unit will be repatriated.

Danish subsidiary Spies said that none of its planes will be leaving, and about 1,400 travellers are affected. A press contact in Thomas Cook said that affected travelers will get their trips refunded.

Thomas Cook unit Oy Tjäreborg says it has a total of 2,884 passengers currently traveling. "We are currently doing all we can to arrange return flights for passengers and will provide more information during the day," the company said on its website.

The Swedish unit Ving said the number of Swedish passengers currently away came to 16,956. "We are now working intensely to ensure that all affected travelers are flown home with as little disruption as possible", the company said on its website.

The Russian tour operator subsidiary, Intourist said the bankruptcy of Thomas Cook will have no impact on clients, Russian executive director Sergei Tolchin told Interfax.

In Germany, Thomas Cook holiday airline Condor says it will continue its flight operation despite its parent company's insolvency.

"Condor ... is continuing operations," the German airline said in a statement.

Thomas Cook says there are roughly 140,000 holidaymakers currently traveling with its German units.

As of Monday morning the Netherlands and Belgium units of Thomas Cook were still operating while the Polish unit Neckermann said its financial condition is stable and it continues to operate normally, with holidaymakers unaffected.

A Greek tourism ministry official told Reuters that about 50,000 tourists are stranded. "The top priority now is to get them back home," the official said, declining to be named.

Cyprus says 15,000 Thomas Cook customers are stranded on the island. "We will work intensively... I believe that a large portion of the arrivals we stand to lose will somehow be regulated by the market and other travel agencies," said Savvas Perdios, deputy minister of tourism to Reuters.

Spanish Airport operator Aena says 46 flights operated by Thomas Cook have been cancelled in Spanish airports. Between 25,000 and 30,000 tourists are affected in the Canary Islands, according to local media.

The Turkish Ministry of Tourism said it will provide support for local companies affected by the Thomas Cook collapse. The Hotelier Federation head said about 45,000 tourists from the UK and Europe are in the country.

Thomas Cook operator Blue Sky Group said that 25,000 reservations in Egypt booked up to April 2020 had been cancelled. Blue Sky currently has 1,600 tourists in Egypt's Hugharda resort.

Tunisian tourism minister Rene Trabelsi told Reuters that 4,500 Thomas Cook customers are still on holiday in Tunisia.

Thomas Cook goes out of business leaving hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers stranded. (Reuters video)

Before the collapse, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the government would not intervene to save the airline, Sky News reported, saying that doing so would create a "moral hazard" because the possibility of a government bailout could encourage other companies to take risks.

Speaking to the British television network ITV, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said that beyond the fact that "governments don’t usually go around investing in travel companies," a bailout of Thomas Cook would likely have only put off the inevitable by "stretching things out for a couple of weeks".

"The company were asking for up to £250 million pounds," he said on Good Morning Britain. "They needed about £900 million pounds on top of that, and they’ve got debts of £1.7 billion pounds, so the idea of just spending taxpayers’ money on that just wasn’t really a goer."

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