September 23, 2019 @ 7:24 by Steven Hugill
More than 150,000 British holidaymakers face an anxious wait to return home after the UK’s oldest travel operator Thomas Cook collapsed.
The 178-year-old business has entered compulsory liquidation after failing to secure a deal to protect its financial future.
Bosses described its collapse as “a matter of profound regret” and a “deeply sad day.”
The firm’s demise means 150,000 holidaymakers, spread across the world, are now awaiting help to return home in what will be the largest-ever peacetime repatriation exercise.
The Civil Aviation Authority and Government have hired dozens of charter planes to bring people home, with officials saying that all customers who are abroad and due to return to the UK in the next two weeks “will be brought home as close as possible to their booked return date.”
All of Thomas Cook Group companies, including its high street shops, have entered compulsory liquidation.
The firm, whose UK-wide operations included flights from Newcastle Airport, employed 22,000 people, including 9,000 in the UK.
The operator had been in talks with stakeholders over the weekend, but officials said their discussions had “not resulted in agreement between the company’s stakeholders and proposed new money providers.”
A spokesperson added its “board has therefore concluded it had no choice but to take steps to enter into compulsory liquidation with immediate effect.”
Peter Fankhauser, chief executive, said: “We have worked exhaustively in the past few days to resolve the outstanding issues on an agreement to secure Thomas Cook’s future for its employees, customers and suppliers.
“Although a deal had been largely agreed, an additional facility requested in the last few days of negotiations presented a challenge that ultimately proved insurmountable.
“It is a matter of profound regret to me and the rest of the board that we were not successful.
“I would like to apologise to our millions of customers, and thousands of employees, suppliers and partners who have supported us for many years,” he added.
“Despite huge uncertainty over recent weeks, our teams continued to put customers first, showing why Thomas Cook is one of the best-loved brands in travel.
“Generations of customers entrusted their family holiday to Thomas Cook because our people kept our customers at the heart of the business and maintained our founder’s spirit of innovation.
“This marks a deeply sad day for the company which pioneered package holidays and made travel possible for millions of people around the world.”
The company has requested its ordinary shares be suspended from listing on the premium segment of the official list of the FCA and from trading on the main market of the London Stock Exchange with immediate effect.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the operator’s failure was “very sad news for staff and holidaymakers.”
He added: “The Government and UK Civil Aviation Authority is working round the clock to help people.
“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 centres and at airports.
“But the task is enormous, the biggest peacetime repatriation in UK history, so there are bound to be problems and delays.
“(We ask people to) please try to be understanding with the staff who are trying to assist in what is likely to be a very difficult time for them as well.”
A statement from the UK Civil Aviation Authority added: “The court has appointed special managers to assist the official receiver with the liquidations.
“Insolvency practitioners from AlixPartners have been appointed as special managers over the airline and tour operator companies.
“Insolvency practitioners from KPMG LLP have been appointed as special managers to the group’s retail division and to its aircraft maintenance division.”