In what has been described as the UK’s “biggest ever peacetime repatriation”, the British government is scrambling to rescue 150,000 stranded British holiday makers.
The government-led repatriation programme, named “Operation Matterhorn”, is expected to last two weeks.
According to multiple media reports, the government has chartered 45 jets to bring stranded customers home, with 64 flights scheduled for yesterday alone.
The tour operator’s collapse has put 22,000 jobs at risk worldwide, with 9,000 UK jobs directly affected.
Thomas Cook’s chief executive, Peter Fankhauser, expressed “profound regret” over the firm’s demise. Underscoring the gravity of the situation, Fankhauser was at pains to apologise to the company’s “millions of customers and thousands of employees”.
Beside its immediate economic and humanitarian impact, the collapse of the 178-year-old firm is widely viewed as a huge iconic loss.
Thomas Cook collapsed after company bosses failed to secure £200m in emergency funding from creditors and the government to keep it afloat.
Even before the firm’s official collapse, there were extreme and dramatic stories about stranded British tourists abroad.
The Guardian reported on September 22 that some Thomas Cook customers in Tunisia were being prevented from leaving their hotels.
According to the Guardian, British guests at the Les Orangers hotel in the coastal town of Hammamet had been “locked inside their resort” and effectively forced to pay a £1,680 fee, before they were allowed to leave.
Similarly, the tabloid newspaper, The Sun, quoted holiday makers in Tunisia claiming they were being held “hostage” by their hotel, before being allowed to leave once a large fee had been paid.
In view of the company’s nearly two centuries long heritage, and its popularity with millions of holidaying Britons, the demise of Thomas Cook is being widely seen as a massive blow to the UK travel industry.