Thomas Cook's Long Odyssey Comes To Abrupt End, Stranding Thousands

Thomas Cook Group,  the British tour operator and airline that has been booking itineraries and transporting voyagers since 1848, abruptly “ceased trading” yesterday, leaving hundred of thousands of passengers scrambling for flights and accommodations around the world, putting thousands of employees out of work -- and even leaving its Twitter account unmonitored



The Guardian picked up the slack by live-blogging  developments such as Turkey’s ministry of culture and tourism warning hotels in the country not to kick Thomas Cook customers out. It also has photos, such as one of stranded passengers at the airport on Menorca, Spain, where “people are being stoic, we hear, but as you can see the check-in desks are besieged.”  petition to save “one of Britain’s most well-known brands” -- a firm that “has made dream holidays for us all” -- had been signed by nearly 70,000 people by the time it hit noon today in London, where the company's headquarters  were locked down last night. 

“Thomas Cook ran hotels, resorts and airlines for 19 million people a year,” writes   Yuliya Talmazan for NBC News. 

“The liquidation marks the end of one of Britain’s oldest companies that started life in 1841 running local rail excursions before it survived two world wars to pioneer package holidays and mass tourism. Crippled by its  £1.7 billion of debt, Thomas Cook has been hit by online competition and a changing travel market,” Talmazan adds.

“The British government said the return of the 178-year-old firm’s 150,000 British customers now in vacation spots across the globe would be the largest repatriation in its peacetime history. The process began Monday and officials warned that delays are inevitable,” the AP’s Gregory Katz writes for USA Today.

“The Civil Aviation Authority said Thomas Cook has ceased trading, its 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 company several months ago had blamed a slowdown in bookings because of Brexit uncertainty for contributing to its crushing debt burden,” Katz continues.

“When people get to the end of their holiday, they will be brought back to the U.K.,” Tim Johnson, head of policy at the CAA, tells  CNN Business’s Clare Duffy and Rob McLean. “We've chartered 40 planes and we’re going to be running over 1,000 flights over the next two weeks.” 

The CAA has launched a website  for customers and travel businesses impacted by the closure.

“Grant Shapps, the U.K.’s secretary of state for transport, said in a statement that the government and CAA are ‘working round the clock' to help people affected by the collapse,” Duffy and McLean continue.

“Our contingency planning has helped acquire planes from across the world -- some from as far away as Malaysia -- and we have put hundreds of people in call centers and at airports,” Shapps says. 

“The BBC understands the government was asked for a bailout of £250 million ($311 million), which was denied. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps defended the move on the “Today” program,” the BBC reports.

“‘I fear it would have kept them afloat for a very short period of time and then we would have been back in the position of needing to repatriate people in any case,’ he said. The company's large debts and High Street-focused  business made it a poor candidate for survival, he said.”

“Shadow chancellor John McDonnell told the BBC the government should have bailed out Thomas Cook, ‘if only to stabilize the situation while a real plan for the future of the company could be addressed,’” the BBC adds.

“Despite coming under fire from Labour and the unions for failing to step in to save the collapsed tour operator, [British prime minister Boris Johnson] said it did not seem the government could have done more to help, for example by agreeing to Thomas Cook’s request for a £150m bailout,” Ben Quinn and Peter Walker report  for The Guardian.

“On the request for government funding, he told reporters on his plane while en route to the U.N. general assembly in New York: ‘Clearly, that’s a lot of taxpayers’ money and sets up, as people will appreciate, a moral hazard in the case of future such commercial difficulties that companies face.’”

Many of those stranded are covered by insurance.

“Packaged holidays are ATOL-protected, which means if a company goes bust, your money should be covered,” Levi Winchester reports  for The Sun

But ATOL apparently does not cover “moral hazards” such as bailing out “iconic” companies run into the ground.

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