Thomas Cook Collapses Leaving Thousands Stranded
LONDON (AP) — Families stranded, honeymoons and vacations canceled, thousands of workers laid off: The sudden collapse of British tour company Thomas Cook and its network of airlines and hotels sowed chaos for hundreds of thousands of travelers and businesses around the world Monday.
Brought down by a variety of factors, including crushing debts and online competition, the 178-year-old travel agency that helped pioneer the package tour ceased operating in the middle of the night. Its four airlines stopped carrying customers, and its 21,000 employees in 16 countries lost their jobs.
The company's failure rippled across the tourism industry, particularly around the Mediterranean, with travelers uncertain how they would get home, hotels worried they wouldn't get paid, guests afraid they wouldn't be allowed to check out without settling their bills, and resorts hit with cancellations.
Overall, about 600,000 people were traveling with Thomas Cook as of Sunday, though it was unclear how many would be left stranded, as some regional subsidiaries were in talks with local authorities to continue operating.
The British government swung into action, lining up flights to bring an estimated 150,000 Britain-based customers back home from vacation spots around the globe in what was called the biggest peacetime repatriation effort in the country's history.
Some 50,000 Thomas Cook travelers were reported stranded in Greece, up to 30,000 in Spain's Canary Islands, 21,000 in Turkey and 15,000 in Cyprus. Travelers lined up at airports, looking for other ways to get home.
An estimated 1 million customers also found their bookings for upcoming trips canceled. Many of them are likely to receive refunds under travel insurance plans but had no idea when they would get their money back. Thomas Cook said it served 22 million customers a year.
The company, which began in 1841 with one-day train excursions in England, grew to have travel operations around the world but has been struggling for years because of competition from budget airlines and low-cost online booking sites.