Passengers gather at Thomas Cook check-in points at Mallorca Airport on Monday in Spain, after the world’s oldest travel company collapsed, stranding many holidaymakers. [Photo/Agencies]
Thomas Cook, a 178-year-old British travel company and airline, declared bankruptcy early Monday morning, suspending operations and leaving hundreds of thousands of tourists stranded around the world.
The travel company operates its own airline, with a fleet of nearly 50 medium- and long-range jets, and owns several smaller airlines and subsidiaries, including the German carrier Condor. Thomas Cook still had several flights in the air as of Sunday night but was expected to cease operations once they landed at their destinations.
Condor posted a message to its site late Sunday night saying that it was still operating but that it was unclear whether that would change. Condor's scheduled Monday-morning flights appeared to be operating normally.
About 600,000 Thomas Cook customers were traveling at the time of the collapse, of whom 150,000 were British, the company told CNN.
The British Department for Transport and Civil Aviation Authority prepared plans, under the code name "Operation Matterhorn," to repatriate stranded British passengers. According to the British aviation authority, those rescue flights would take place until October 6, leading to the possibility that travelers could be delayed for up to two weeks.
Initial rescue flights seemed poised to begin immediately, with stranded passengers posting on Twitter that they were being delayed only a few hours as they awaited chartered flights.
British passengers board an Airbus A380 airliner that is being used for transporting Thomas Cook customers at Dalaman Airport after Thomas Cook, the world's oldest travel firm, collapsed stranding hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers around the globe and sparking the largest peacetime repatriation effort in British history, in Dalaman, Turkey, Sept 24, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]
The scale of the task has reports calling it the largest peacetime repatriation effort in British history, including the operation the government carried out when Monarch Airlines collapsed in 2017.
Costs of the flights were expected to be covered by the ATOL, or Air Travel Organiser's License, protection plan, a fund that provides for repatriation of British travelers if an airline ceases operations.
Airplanes from British Airways and easyJet would be among those transporting stranded passengers home, according to The Guardian, as well as chartered planes from leasing companies and other airlines. Thomas Cook Airlines' destinations included parts of mainland Europe, Africa, the US, the Caribbean, and the Middle East. Airplanes were being flown to those destinations on Sunday night, according to the BBC.
The company was still selling tickets until Sunday night in the UK.
One Plymouth, England-based traveler who had booked a vacation to the Greek island of Zakynthos for August 2020 told Business Insider that she saw Thomas Cook had charged her more than £600 by direct debit on Sunday afternoon for the trip but that she was not due to be charged until Thursday. It was unclear whether she would be able to recoup the funds with the bankruptcy declaration.
A pedestrian walks past a Thomas Cook shop in central London, Nov 26, 2014. [Photo/Agencies]
Thomas Cook, as well as a union representing some of its 9,000 UK employees, had sought an emergency funding plan from the British government. Government sources, however, "had questioned the financial wisdom of stepping in to save the company," according to the BBC. The company employs 21,000 globally.
While Thomas Cook managed to recover from a risk of insolvency in 2011, it continued to be held back by lingering debts. It also suffered by lower demand over the past two summer travel seasons, as major heat waves led many Britons to stay home. Brexit uncertainties and a weak pound also contributed, according to The Telegraph.