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Travel agents + public offer support to Cook's staff, as industry considers lessons to be learned from biggest failure in its history ...

In the midst of a time of unforseen, long extra hours -  working willingly and conscientiously for affected customers, the response from the travel trade to the Thomas Cook failure, and especially towards TC’s staff, has nonetheless been nothing short of remarkable. The stories abound of staff being helped in so many ways, from within the industry, and indeed outside.

In many SPAA member companies, staff have been working round the clock to rebook not only their own clients, but also assisting many clients who have booked online,  yet have asked members for help - a tribute to the professionalism and heart of colleagues.

Meanwhile, with shops in a small town in the South of England having offered Cook staff free hair appointments; supplies of food, health treatment, football clubs offering free tickets for former members and families, the whip round of several thousand pounds from passengers on a Las Vegas inbound to Glasgow, and the endless other stories, it’s probably the most positive thing to come out of this whole, really awful, situation.

Then of course there are the customers themselves. Unfortunately, and ironically, we have form in this area with previous collapses, so the CAA are well experienced in repatriating stranded customers. The CAA have to be congratulated for the extraordinary rescue mission that has been put into action, and the fact that customers can even still continue their holidays knowing they will be brought back. 55 aircraft don’t appear from nowhere, nor do their crew and logistics, so the planning has been in place for a while, and you can understand completely, the anger of consumers who were booking with Cook up to the last minute. 

Customers who have paid money for forward bookings will have an anxious wait to see their hard earned cash returned, obviously depending not only on how they paid, but also whether their booking has consumer cover at all. On the other hand, we are seeing some hysterical and knee-jerk reactions to the failure, blaming everyone and anyone who seems like a fall guy for its demise.

From Thomas Cook management - all the way back to 2007 - for expanding at a ridiculous rate, to the bizarre strategy employed over the years and then the subsequent borrowing of money to get out of hole, thereby creating a bigger one. To the auditors at the time letting the company carry £1.1billion ‘goodwill’ from the MyTravel purchase in 2007 in their accounts, up until new auditors arrived this year and told them to get it off their books. Normally it would have been written down over all those 11 years, and it’s a mystery why it wasn’t. 

Then, successive governments ignoring the need for overall transport consumer protection. It’s not like buying from the local carpet shop, where if the shop goes bust you only have to walk on bare floorboards for six weeks. If a travel company goes bust you end up being stranded in a foreign country with all the distress that causes. If you ever wondered why the Government repatriated all 150,000 passengers of whom 40% WEREN’T COVERED BY ATOL, can you imagine the chaos that would be caused if they were left to their own devices, Embassies overseas being inundated?

Neither can I excuse the travel trade from not being vigilant, and indeed in many cases demonstrating a lack of awareness. The consumer protection laws are complicated to say the least, but that doesn’t excuse a professional travel company from ensuring their customer is protected as well as possible. Many calls to the CAA in recent days from the trade have been surprising, where clearly there is not even a basic understanding of the rules, within some tour operators of reasonable size, especially where they have bought seats on Thomas Cook Airlines. Regrettably this is perhaps going to lead to real challenges for these companies.

I hope beyond hope that the CAA, the DfT and Parliament now truly understand the meaning of consumer protection and get their fingers out and let our holidaymakers book and enjoy their hard earned dream vacations in peace in the future. The ATOL system is now well and truly broken, ironically by the Government of the day because they basically had no choice in repatriating Monarch and now Thomas Cook clients. The people involved in Government in the past didn’t fully understand the travel industry or listen to us. Perhaps they’ll listen now.

We miss you Mr Thomas Cook. Your vision was extraordinary and you did us proud. You should be comforted by the fact for those 178 years in existence, most of it was all good. We need some of your wisdom now.


Ken McLeod, President - SPAA


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The CAA Thomas Cook call centre is contactable on 0300 303 2800 (+44 1753 330330 from outside UK + NI)