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Chaplains rally to Thomas Cook holidaymakers

27 September 2019

‘We give them a cup of tea and make sure they’re OK’


On the day that the travel firm Thomas Cook filed for insolvency, on Monday, passengers wait for information at Palma de Mallorca Airport

On the day that the travel firm Thomas Cook filed for insolvency, on Monday, passengers wait for information at Palma de Mallorca Airport

TEAMS of chaplains at airports throughout the country have been helping tourists caught up in the collapse of the travel firm Thomas Cook.

The company’s shutdown has triggered the biggest ever peacetime repatriation: 150,000 UK holidaymakers are to be brought home, in a flight programme costing £100 million.

At East Midlands Airport, the Revd John Dawson and his three colleagues worked a rota to ensure that they were on hand when government-funded repatriation flights from Egypt and Spain landed. “People are really distressed: firstly, because their holidays have been cut short, and then they had to wait a long time to get on a plane home,” he said.

“They are pleased to have been repatriated, but were critical of how things were handled. They needed more help to sort out how they were getting back. Some had been delayed for up to ten hours, and weren’t getting any information. If they had known what was happening, it would have taken a lot of the heat out of the situation, but it had spoilt their holidays. They were hot and bothered, wondering what was going to happen.

“This is a holiday airport; so we are geared up for this sort of thing. We offer someone they can talk to, help with contacts, offering a phone to ring relatives. We just sit them down, give them a cup of tea, and make sure they are OK. It just gives them a feeling that somebody cares, after a situation where they were really up for their holiday and it’s all gone wrong. It was a hell of a shock for them.”

At Manchester Airport, a base for Thomas Cook, the Revd George Lane worked with Foreign Office staff and representatives from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), aiding hundreds of holidaymakers as they landed on repatriation flights from Egypt, Europe, and the United States.

“People were relieved to be home, but often the flights were landing at an airport several hours from their original return destination,” he said. “We were able to help sorting out their onward travel. Some faced further journeys of several hours. We also dealt with a couple of people who didn’t have the cash for onward flights.”

Mr Lane and his colleagues are also supporting the 3000 Thomas Cook office and technical staff based at Manchester Airport. “They’re staying on for the next couple of weeks to help sort out the aftermath of the closure,” he said. “They chose to do that at a time when they are not sure if they will get paid, and face uncertainty about their future.

“Other airlines will be recruiting, as the travel demand is still there, but they face the dilemma of either staying to provide customer support or moving to a new employer.” The failure of the tour operator puts 22,000 jobs at risk worldwide, including 9000 in the UK.

Passengers on one of the last Thomas Cook flights before the shutdown in the early hours on Monday organised a collection for the cabin crew after hearing that they had lost their jobs while in the air. Ashleigh MacLennan, a hairdresser from Glasgow, filled two pillow cases with cash on the trip from Las Vegas to Manchester. “Everyone happily contributed,” she said. “I felt it was only right that we showed our appreciation. When the manager received the bags, she was crying, and hugged me so tight. They were so grateful, and made an emotional thank you to everyone.”

Tourists using religious-themed tour operators were mostly unaffected by the crash. The companies either use low-cost airlines or national carriers of the destination country, which are keen to bring tourists into their country.

On Monday, the CAA repatriated nearly 15,000 Thomas Cook customers on 64 flights: a further 74 flights are scheduled on Tuesday. The CAA expects that it will take two weeks to complete the operation to ensure that people’s holidays are not cut short. Dame Deirdre Hutton, who chairs the CAA, said: “There’s nobody abroad who should have been home. We’re bringing people back when their holiday ends; so we’ve got another 135,000 people to bring.”

The Business Secretary, Andrea Leadsom, said that she would be assembling a government-led taskforce to support staff at Thomas Cook who had lost their jobs. She was also asking the Insolvency Service to bring forward its normal statutory inquiry into the multi-million-pound payments made to Thomas Cook directors.

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