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Hundreds of thousands stranded as UK travel firm Thomas Cook collapses

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Governments, insurance firms must coordinate huge rescue operation for hundreds of thousands of people across globe

LONDON: The world's oldest travel company Thomas Cook collapsed yesterday, leaving hundreds of thousands of tourists stranded around the globe and sparking the largest peacetime repatriation effort in British history.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to get stranded British travellers home and revealed that the government had rejected a request from Thomas Cook for a bailout of about £150 million (S$260 million) because doing so would have set up a "moral hazard".

"It is a very difficult situation and obviously our thoughts are very much with the customers of Thomas Cook, the holiday makers who may now face difficulties getting home. We will do our level best to get them home," he told reporters on a plane as he headed to the UN General Assembly in New York.

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. It ran hotels, resorts and airlines for 19 million people a year in 16 countries. It has 600,000 people abroad now, forcing governments and insurance companies to coordinate a huge rescue operation.

Chief executive Peter Fankhauser said it was a matter of profound regret that the company had gone out of business after it failed to secure a rescue package from its lenders in frantic talks.

The British Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said Thomas Cook had ceased trading and the regulator and government had a fleet of planes ready to start bringing home the more than 150,000 British customers over the next two weeks.


"I would like to apologise to our millions of customers, and thousands of employees, suppliers and partners who have supported us for many years," Mr Fankhauser said in a statement. "It is a matter of profound regret to me and the rest of the board that we were not successful."

Pictures posted on social media showed Thomas Cook planes being diverted away from the normal airport stands. Employees posted pictures of themselves walking from their last flights.

"Love my job so much, don't want it to end," Ms Kia Dawn Hayward, a member of the company's cabin crew, tweeted.

The government and aviation regulator said that due to the scale of the situation, some disruption was inevitable. All the company's flights are cancelled.

Customers were told not to travel to airports until they have been told via a special website - - that they were due on a return flightorganised by the government.

The British regulator is also contacting hotels hosting Thomas Cook customers to tell them they will be paid by the government, through an insurance scheme. That was after some were briefly held in a hotel in Tunisia when staff asked for additional payments.

Mr Gary Seale, a guest at the Orangers Hotel in Hammamet, Tunisia, posted on Facebook on Saturday that "security have refused to let us out of the hotel and barricaded us in".

He later posted he had reached the airport and flew home on Sunday.

British Transport Minister Grant Shapps said the government had managed to "acquire planes from across the world" to get people home, and call centres had been established to answer queries. - REUTERS