UK brings travelers home as Thomas Cook bosses criticized

International News

A Thomas Cook luggage tag lays discarded in the street, outside the Cancun airport in Mexico, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. British tour company Thomas Cook collapsed early Monday after failing to secure emergency funding, leaving tens of thousands of vacationers stranded abroad. (AP Photo/Victor Ruiz)

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s biggest repatriation effort since World War II ramped up Tuesday as questions swirled over the pay that Thomas Cook executives received in the run-up to the tour operator’s collapse.

As uncertain Thomas Cook customers made their way to airports around the world, Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said it brought 14,700 people back to the U.K. on 64 flights Monday — about 95% of those booked to fly home that day.

A further 135,000 passengers are expected to be brought back on rescue flights over the next 13 days, including 16,800 on 74 flights on Tuesday. Everyone will be brought back regardless of nationality or whether they are protected by the government-backed travel insurance program.

Debt-laden Thomas Cook ceased all operations Monday after failing to raise the money it wanted from shareholders, leaving hundreds of thousands of travelers stranded around the world and 21,000 employees, including 9,000 in the U.K., out of work. The repatriation is expected to cost the British government approximately 100 million pounds ($125 million).

“A repatriation of this scale and nature is unprecedented and unfortunately there will be some inconvenience and disruption for customers,” said Richard Moriarty, the British aviation authority’s chief executive. “We will do everything we can to minimize this as the operation continues.”

Moriarty said tourists should not let the collapse of the company affect their holidays.

“We want people to continue to enjoy their holiday, so we will bring them back to the U.K. on their original departure day, or very soon thereafter.”

It was still unclear how many of the 600,000 total that were traveling with Thomas Cook as of Sunday would remain stranded. German authorities were still mulling a request for a bridging loan from airline Condor, a subsidiary of Thomas Cook. The company’s Dutch subsidiary said all flights scheduled for Tuesday were scrapped and customers won’t be able to use accommodations they had booked.

The 178-year-old travel agency that helped pioneer the package tour was brought down by a number of factors, including changing travel habits, online competition and recent heat waves in Europe. It was also hit by the uncertainty related to Britain’s impending departure from the European Union, which has seen the British pound fall sharply, making holidays abroad for those living in Britain more expensive.

British Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom has called on the country’s Insolvency Service to “fast-track” its investigation into the collapse of Thomas Cook.

The union that represents 3,000 Thomas Cook workers, including cabin crew and engineers, said the review by Britain’s Insolvency Agency was “too little, too late” and further highlighted their belief that Britain’s financial regulatory system was “broken.”

“Yet again the government is guilty of being asleep at the wheel,” said Diana Holland, the Unite union’s assistant general secretary. “The collapse of Thomas Cook has not been allowed to happen in other countries, as their governments and regulators have mechanisms to stop such a disastrous and immediate collapse as has happened in the U.K.”

Thomas Cook executives over the past few years have been accused of failing to failing to adapt to industry changes and for rewarding themselves with inappropriately high salaries and bonuses. Top executives reportedly shared up to 20 million pounds between them in pay and perks over the past five years at a time when the company’s profits were in sharp decline.

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s main opposition Labour Party, slammed the behavior of Thomas Cook’s directors, saying they “were able to fill their pockets with unearned bonuses while their workers face redundancy and 150,000 holidaymakers are stranded because of their failure.”

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