The Slatest

The Strangest Details From Travel Company Thomas Cook’s Sudden Shutdown

Closed Thomas Cook check-in desks at Gatwick Airport.
The closed Thomas Cook check-in desks at London Gatwick Airport in Crawley, England, on Monday.
Tolga Akmen/Getty Images

Thomas Cook, the world’s oldest travel company, suddenly collapsed on Monday, stranding hundreds of thousands of passengers across the world.

The British company, which has been operating since 1841 but in recent years has been struggling under $2 billion in debt, entered liquidation after failing to secure a deal with creditors and being denied a government bailout. All of its flights were canceled, and thousands of employees found themselves without work.

The chaotic scenes did not come at British airports—passengers who had not yet left were warned not to show up—but from airports abroad, where as many as 500,000 customers (at least 150,000 of whom were British residents) were stranded without a return trip home. The result: The British government is now conducting what is being called the country’s largest ever peacetime repatriation effort.

On Monday, the U.K.’s Civil Aviation Authority began organizing for British tourists to be flown back. The CAA said it expects to run 1,000 flights from 55 destinations to retrieve the British passengers. Some passengers are still waiting for guidance and worried about the possibility they may not recoup the cost of their vacations. (Thomas Cook operated its own airline, hotels, and resorts, but it also booked hotels and other travel amenities from third parties in its popular vacation packages). Many customers are guaranteed their money back under a British financial protection scheme that safeguards most package holidays sold by British businesses. Non-British travelers may have other aid from their home countries or travel insurance.

Here are some of the other strange details from Monday’s chaotic airlines news.

Some vacationers were reportedly temporarily held captive at one hotel.
Customers who booked hotels but not flights through Thomas Cook learned on Monday that they would have to pay the full price themselves. Several vacationers who stayed at one hotel in Tunis reported that when they tried during the weekend to head out for their flights home, the hotel barred them from leaving the property, demanding they pay fees they said they were owed by Thomas Cook.

One man described it as a “hostage” situation with four security guards holding the gates closed to prevent anyone leaving, according to the BBC. Two people recalled that one elderly woman had to pay the hotel more than $2,500 in fees on top of the full cost of her stay. The vacationers said the British Embassy got involved in the dispute, and the hotel eventually allowed them to leave. Thomas Cook said on Twitter that it had refunded customers who paid extra fees with credit cards, and the CAA has reassured hotels with Thomas Cook customers that they would be paid through the British financial protection plan for travel.

According to Reuters, authorities in the country have said that Thomas Cook owes Tunisian hotels $66 million for stays booked in July and August. There are still about 4,500 Thomas Cook customers in the country.

A couple was promised a “special surprise” for their wedding.
A 29-year-old man named Thomas Cook booked his wedding package with the company last year. He told reporters that the operator who booked his trip promised him a “special surprise” because of his shared name.

Now Cook and his partner, Amelia Binch, are unsure what will happen without the company that organized their ceremony. They are scheduled to be married on Friday on the Greek island of Rhodes, but many family and friends who planned to get there on Thomas Cook flights no longer can. Cook and Binch also have not received information about the flowers, decorations, cake, and entertainment that were part of the package they bought. The couple is stuck in Rhodes, unsure if they’ll be able to get married at all.

Thousands of tourists are stranded on Greek Islands.
Cook and Binch were not the only customers to be left stranded in Greece. The country’s tourism ministry said about 50,000 tourists were stuck there, mainly on its islands.

Spain, Turkey, and Tunisia also have large numbers of people in need of transport. The immediate concern is getting home stranded passengers, but those countries are expecting a financial hit in the longer term from the loss of British tourism. Turkey’s hotels expect to lose more than 600,000 tourists annually, according to Reuters.