Thomas Cook ceases trading and leaves tens of thousands in travel limbo

  • Video report by ITV News Economics Editor Joel Hills

The UK's largest peacetime repatriation has been launched after travel giant Thomas Cook collapsed.

An estimated 150,000 tourists are being brought home by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in a programme costing £100 million.

Dubbed Operation Matterhorn, it will see 45 chartered planes transport stranded passengers from 53 destination in 18 countries back to the United Kingdom.

Thomas Cook ceased trading in the early hours of Monday morning after failing to secure a last-ditch rescue deal needed to keep the business afloat.

  • ITV News Economics Editor Joel Hills explains the reasons behind Thomas Cook's demise

Holidaymakers already abroad will be flown home as close as possible to their original return time and date, but all future Thomas Cook bookings have been cancelled, affecting around one million people.

The majority of the cost of the programme will be met from funds held by the Atol scheme, with the Government also making a contribution.

Atol provides protection to customers on package holidays when travel firms collapse, although passengers who made flight-only bookings with Thomas Cook are also being brought home at no extra charge.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there needs to be new legislation to ensure the taxpayer isn't left footing the bill to repatriate customers of failed travel operators.

Penny and Doug Ingham told ITV News they went into a Thomas Cook shop on Sunday to print their boarding passes, but staff were "upbeat" and said there was nothing to worry about.

Penny said she received a text from 2am from a friend to say the tour operator had ceased trading.

"[I have] mixed feelings, still hoping we can go, but very sad for Thomas Cook because we had been booking through them now for decades," she added.

While Adrian Green had been due to fly to Turkey with his family on Sunday, but because of cabin crew sickness the flight was delayed, forcing them to fly on Monday instead.

"I haven't had any messages [from Thomas Cook]...I'm feel disappointed, I've booked with Thomas Cook every year up till now so I feel let down," he said.

"We saved up for a year just to get out there and have a holiday with my daughter, it's been spoilt."

  • Holiday dreams left shattered - what now for those stranded overseas facing hotel bills and flight uncertainty?

Future holidaymakers back in the UK booked on Thomas Cook holidays are also affected, including Lewis and Amy Bromiley from Manchester who had paid £7,000 for their holiday to the Maldives in August.

They said they will have to wait months for a refund because of the amount of people claiming and said they will have to change the destination due to lack of availability.

“We booked it over a year ago, so we were well prepared and had got the best deal," Mr Bromiley said.

“Me and my wife are devastated. We wanted to go to Maldives as it’s paradise and we’re looking to plan for children soon, so we wanted to tick it off out bucket list, before we couldn’t.”

Lucy Jessop from Hull was due to return from a two-week holiday in Mexico on a Thomas Cook flight on Tuesday.

She said she was "initially worried" about the situation but was relieved that alternative flights are being arranged.

"It's the employees of Thomas Cook and all those due to go on holiday I feel for," she added. "We were the lucky ones, I suppose."

Lewis Bromiley and his wife Amy had been booked to go to the Maldives through Thomas Cook. Credit: Bromiley/PA

One passenger was visibly upset at Manchester Airport, after being told her flight was safe two weeks ago.

"[They said] if you are flying out on the 23rd, your flight is safe and will continue as normal. There's updates still, saying it will continue as normal, we booked it in since May," she said.

Across the Mediterranean, Britons flying from Corfu back home have been waiting in the island's tiny airport all day, and many won't be leaving until late Monday evening.

There is still a lot of uncertainty for passengers on whether they will even make it home tonight.

One passenger said that while he bought another ticket for a flight home, he's not guaranteed to get a seat as the ticket isn't Atol-protected.

"We're not even guaranteed to get on the [flight tonight], so there's a chance we could be staying here overnight," he said.

For some, the problems started before they even arrived at the airport.

"We were supposed to be collected at 8 o'clock this morning from our hotel, but no transport turned up. Nobody knew anything," said one stranded passenger.

"We tried to get a taxi, but no taxis.So in the end, we ended up hiring a car and shared it with another couple."

Thomas Cook employs 21,000 people in 16 countries, including 9,000 jobs in the UK, all of which are at risk because of the company's collapse.

Unions representing its staff had previously urged the Government to intervene financially.

A staff member leaving the company's headquarters in Peterborough said the liquidation was "inevitable".

The worker, who had been with Thomas Cook for 15 years, said staff would not be getting paid and would have to claim the money back.

James Fletcher, who has worked for Thomas Cook for almost 17 years, said he is devastated that the travel company has gone into liquidation.

"Devastated, I mean this is livelihood, people got mortgages, kids, everything to pay for like everyone else has, but yeah, absolutely devastated.

"Not much more you can do.

When asked about what was said in the meeting: "I won't divulge that because that's unfair but all i can say is it's just devastating news, and everyone's livelihoods have gone in tatters overnight."

But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps defended the Government's decision not to bail out the travel firm.

He told ITV News: "We know the problems at Thomas Cook aren't just something that has happened this week, there is a systematic issue really, a change in the industry, still operating high street shops when people have become their own travel agents online.

"It looked very much like if you try to prop this company up, then probably not very far down the line we would be right back where we are today, having pumped a lot of taxpayer money in."

Mr Shapps said dozens of charter planes had been hired to fly customers home free of charge and hundreds of people were working in call centres and at airports.

Thomas Cook chief executive Peter Fankhauser said his company had "worked exhaustively" to salvage a rescue package.

He said: "I know that this outcome will be devastating to many people and will cause a lot of anxiety, stress and disruption.

"I would like to apologise to our millions of customers, and thousands of employees, suppliers and partners who have supported us for many years."

A Government task force is being set up to support employees as well as to monitor and assess the impact on affected local businesses.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged to help stranded holidaymakers, as he questioned whether bosses are not incentivised to prevent their business’s demise.

He added: “I think we need to look at ways in which tour operators can protect themselves from such bankruptcies in future.

“One is driven to reflect on whether the directors of these companies are properly incentivised to sort such matters out.”

Thomas Cook customers are advised to visit the CAA's dedicated website,, for more information about what they should do next.