The Divers

For almost a year, members of the Calne diving club had been preparing their holiday. They had coordinated time off from work, enlisted grandparents to look after the children, packed and repacked their scuba gear and set their alarms for 1am.

But yesterday, when they should have been hours away from that first poolside drink in Egypt, the nine of them stood forlornly in a circle at Gatwick airport.

The nine friends had been travelling in convoy down the motorway from Wiltshire when one of them heard of the collapse of XL Leisure Group and called the others. His friends thought it was a joke until, they too, turned on the radio and learnt that the country's third largest tour operator had gone into administration because of highfuel prices and the credit crunch.

"We are gutted, devastated. We imported the grandparents, handed over the children and now we are on our way home again," said Steph Brazier, 34, a detective constable with two small children. "We should be sat by the pool at a five-star hotel with a drink planning our diving tomorrow. I phoned the children to say the plane is broken so Mum is coming home. My daughter was pleased but my son started crying because he realised how important it was to us."

The Calne Divers had initially been elated when one of their number, John Hunt, 42, had won a free holiday for eight in El Gouna. They all pitched in to pay for a ninth member and then spent 11 months trying to coordinate all their work schedules.

Yesterday they were preparing for a night out at their local Indian restaurant, unable to reach their hotel rooms or dive sites.

"It's the closest we will get to Egypt today," said John Dodswoth, 29.

Mother and Son

Natalie Hombrado, 28, stood clutching her exhausted nine-month-old son Jayden as she explained that four generations of her family had been forced to spend a further £4,000 to save their holiday to Florida.

"I just feel sick. I feel like it is not actually happening, to be honest," she said. Having travelled from Stroud in Gloucestershire in the early hours of yesterday, the family had been shocked to discover that their flights had been cancelled and were preparing to transfer to Heathrow in the hope of salvaging their trip. "We are just hoping the villa will still be all right and we will be able to claim on the flights," said Ms Hombrado.

Saving for two years

Tom Penman, 41, and his family, from Lanarkshire, Scotland, were due to fly from Manchester for a two-week trip of a lifetime to Florida, but instead are stranded and scrambling to save their dream holiday.

Mr Penman said: "It's shocking. We've saved up for two years and now the children are in tears. We didn't go on holiday last year to save up for this one. Now we're scrambling for tickets and we are stuck."

He added: "We bought all the theme park tickets already and it was meant to be a holiday of a lifetime. I'm annoyed that some people knew about this yesterday and lots of passengers were rebooked before this morning."

The Anniversary

Grace and David Douse had paid extra so they could sit together on the flight to Greece to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.

"We hit rock bottom when we heard it on the radio [as they travelled to the airport in the car]). My wife didn't even know we were travelling with them. I had to tell her. I tease her a lot so she didn't believe me," explained Mr Douse.

His wife, a nurse, said: "It is not a good start to what we had imagined was going to be a wonderful 40th anniversary. I was pretty devastated, absolutely knocked for six. We had packed our cases and watered the tomatoes. The children all rang to say have a good time and here we are at Gatwick. We just want to get out there and sit at a taverna with the sun setting."

In the end Mr and Mrs Douse, who were still waiting to hear whether they would get their money back, paid £700 for replacement flights but it would mean a long and tiring journey, via Heathrow, Athens and a four-hour train ride.

Returning Home

Lindsey Grant, 50, a fisheries board worker from Scotland, stood dejected at the XL counter at Gatwick, explaining that he did not think his family could afford to spend more money to replace their holiday in Turkey.

The group had set off on a flight from Inverness as 7am that morning in the hope of still getting a trip away but were appalled that they would have to spend a further £373 each if they wanted to travel. "I think it is just bloody awful. I could use stronger language. You look forward to a holiday all year and unless we can find something else it is gone."

How to make sure you get your money back

*In aviation, what is the difference between a credit card and a debit card? According to easyJet, £3.20 – representing the extra transaction charge if you use MasterCard or a Visa credit card rather than a debit card. But for at least 50,000 customers of XL Airways, it could mean the difference between a mighty inconvenience anda massive loss. When you make a down-payment on a dream, it pays to use the right type of plastic.

The Consumer Credit Act makes a credit card issuer jointly liable with the supplier for performance of the contract – in the case of a flight, getting you from A to B at roughly the right time. As long as the purchase is for £100 or more, then the credit-card company will reimburse fares paid to an airline that fails. But the refund you get is for the original flight, not the more expensive replacement.

Better still, in terms of risk aversion, is the package holiday. However tempting the arithmetic of a self-assembly air and hotel combination, it cannot challenge the cast-iron consumer protection that comes when you buy in a single transaction. All the risk is transferred to the supplier – and, if the holiday company fails, to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The lucky folk following yesterday's collapse are those holidaymakers who are already away – they will be permitted to finish their holidays, and probably fly back at about the same time as originally scheduled. Those who are yet to travel will be entitled to full refunds, again covered by the CAA bond. This is not unmitigated good news, since the fare for a replacement holiday flight is likely to be substantially higher than the original. But in travel, as in life, hanging on to a dream is a tricky business.