Travel chaos, jobs lost as UK firm Thomas Cook collapses
LONDON (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of travellers were stranded across the world Monday after British tour company Thomas Cook collapsed, immediately halting almost all its flights and hotel services and laying off all its employees.
Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority confirmed Thomas Cook, a 178-year-old company that helped create the package tour industry, had ceased trading. It said the firm’s four airlines will be grounded, and its 21,000 employees in 16 countries — including 9,000 in the U.K. — will lose their jobs.
The collapse of the firm will have sweeping effects across the entire European and North African tourism industry and elsewhere, as hotels worried about being paid and confirmed bookings for high-season winter resorts were suddenly in doubt.
Overall, about 600,000 people were travelling with the company as of Sunday, though it was unclear how many of them would be left stranded, as some travel subsidiaries were in talks with local authorities to continue operating.
The British government said it was taking charge of getting the firm’s 150,000 U.K.-based customers back home from vacation spots across the globe, the largest repatriation effort in the country’s peacetime history. The process began Monday and officials warned of delays.
A stream of reports Monday morning gave some sense of the extent of the travel chaos: some 50,000 Thomas Cook travellers were stranded in Greece; up to 30,000 stuck in Spain’s Canary Islands; 21,000 in Turkey and 15,000 in Cyprus alone.
An estimated one million future Thomas Cook travellers also found their bookings for upcoming holidays cancelled.
Many are likely to receive refunds under travel insurance plans.
The company, which began in 1841 with a one-day train excursion in England and now has business in 16 countries, has been struggling financially for years due to competition from budget airlines and the ease of booking low-cost accommodations through the internet.
Thomas Cook also still owned almost 600 travel shops on major streets in Britain as well as 200 hotels, adding real estate costs to its crushing debt burden.