Operation begins to bring home stranded Flyglobespan holidaymakers

A major operation to get stranded air passengers home for Christmas began today after the collapse of airline Flyglobespan.

The carrier's Edinburgh-based parent company, The Globespan Group, went into administration last night with the loss of 800 jobs.

All flights were cancelled without warning, leaving thousands of travellers stranded abroad.

Around 5,000 passengers had booked to travel with Flyglobespan over the next few days.

The airline operated flights from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, as well as transatlantic flights from other UK hubs including Manchester, Gatwick and Belfast.

The Department of Transport has been working with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and low-cost airlines to try to bring stranded travellers home at a minimum cost.

Transport Minister Paul Clark said: "I urge all affected passengers to identify themselves as former Flyglobespan customers to alternative carriers in order to ensure they benefit from special repatriation fares.

"My principal concern is to ensure that those who are currently abroad are able to get home for Christmas."

Last night's announcement came from administrators PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) who said the firm had collapsed after failing to secure extra funds which it had been seeking.

They attributed the cashflow crisis to a lack of confidence in the sector following the demise of other airlines.

The group's tour operator division Globespan also folded, affecting an estimated 1,100 package holiday customers currently in Egypt and the Mediterranean and a further 27,000 with future bookings, the CAA said.

Package customers are protected under the CCA's Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (Atol) scheme but airlines are not included in the arrangement.

So while those Globespan customers will get a refund and their flight home organised for them, people who booked directly with Flyglobespan are likely to have to meet the costs of travelling home themselves.

They include an estimated 3,400 holidaymakers in Spain, Portugal, Cyprus and Egypt, according to the CAA.

Travellers booked on cancelled flights were advised not to go to the airport and contact the Globespan helpline or check its website for information.

Rival airlines easyJet and Ryanair offered passengers affected special "rescue" fares to allow them to return home where their routes overlap with those of Flyglobespan.

Thomas Cook said it had arranged additional capacity for its flights out of Glasgow Airport and Virgin Atlantic said it would be running up to seven extra flights from Glasgow to Florida in the summer.

The Scottish Government said the collapse of the airline was "extremely disappointing news" and said it would support those who have lost their jobs.

A spokesman said: "We recognise that this will be an anxious time for employees and their families, particularly at this time of year.

"The Scottish Government stands ready to offer support through the work of the Partnership Action for Continuing Employment initiative, should that be required."

Ralph Gerrard, from Kirkaldy, is currently in Lanzarote and told the BBC News website he is "very worried" about getting home.

"We are in Lanzarote for two weeks - arrived on Sunday flying with Globespan. Just found out about Globespan from family back home," he wrote.

"We booked through the website and do not know if we are covered to get home.

"Globespan have not contacted us to inform us, we are very worried now."

Staff also said they were in the dark about what was going on.

Senior cabin crew member Tom Maguire, from Prestwick, told the BBC: "I have been with them for five years and they haven't even bothered to contact us.

"I'm completely devastated by this news the week before Christmas. I feel totally let down.

"There is nothing on the staff website, we're just hearing things through Facebook. No one has told me that I don't have a job."

David Gray, whose sister Michelle works for the airline and is currently stranded in India, told BBC Radio 5 Live: "She's absolutely devastated. It's terrible. She doesn't know what she's going to do.

"Our primary concern is we need to get her home.

"They just don't know what's happening."

The majority of Flyglobespan customers appeared to have followed requests not to turn up for the cancelled flights.

Staff were in place behind the airline's desk at Glasgow airport this morning but there were no customers seeking help.

The airport branch of travel agent Barrhead Travel opened at 5.30am instead of 9am to help Flyglobespan customers rebook.

A spokesman said: "We're trying our best to secure every single booking that has been made, either through ourselves or people that have booked through Flyglobespan, and we are trying to get people out. We really sympathise with them."

Holidaymakers Jon Blakely and Neil Cochrane heard last night that flights were cancelled but travelled from Oban to Glasgow airport anyway.

They were disappointed by the lack of information available at the airport last night, with no one to speak to at the Flyglobespan desk.

The pair were due to travel to Tenerife on a 7am flight today for a seven-day break which had cost £370 for both of them, including flights and accommodation.

They managed to book another holiday through Barrhead Travel but will lose two days of their holiday as they are now going on a five-day break to Fuerteventura in the Canaries.

They will have to drive to Manchester to catch tomorrow's flight.

Mr Cochrane, 38, said he was disappointed at the way they had been treated by Flyglobespan.

The father of three said: "We drove down here last night to see if we could get any help but there was nobody about to help or give any advice and we got to the airport at 6.30pm.

"There should be more information for people like me. It feels like you are a bit high and dry."

For Mr Blakely, 40, it was the second time he has been unlucky with his holiday.

He lost out on a holiday to Lanzarote when XL collapsed last year, a week before he was due to go on a two-week break which had cost £900 for him and his girlfriend.

This time he was looking forward to a holiday as he was in a bad car crash in September and was in intensive care for two days.

He said: "I was looking forward to Tenerife because of the weather but we're still going to the Canaries. You cannot guarantee the weather but it will still be hot.

"I had a bad accident so I wanted to get some heat on my body.

"At least we are still going away but we are losing two days and we've got to travel down but we still got something.

"But I'm still annoyed."

Administrators said they planned to investigate why a "significant" amount of cash from credit card bookings did not reach Flyglobespan.

Bruce Cartwright, of PWC, told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme this was not to do with the credit card companies, but the way money reached the airline after online transactions.

He said: "That money goes into a booking site and is then passed to the airline.

"There does in this case seem to have been a significant build-up of cash that has not reached the company."

Mr Cartwright said the firm reported losses two years ago, but later reported a small profit after making several changes.

He added: "The directors had made significant progress but the dificulty is when you carried forward a loss, you have a weak balance sheet.

"Then you hit a difficult time, and there is also an issue here that in difficult times your credit lines get tighter and people are unwilling to extend credit.

"And in this particular case, it does seem also that there's a fair amount of money owed to the company."

Staff at the company will be told later today if they still have jobs.

Mr Cartwright said some workers would be retained to help "wind down" the firm but many would be told of redundancies.

Administrators would also look at whether staff would be paid, Mr Cartwright added.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "At the moment operations have ceased and therefore we are in an orderly wind-down, and therefore we will be making redundancies today.

"We will be asking certain staff to stay on and help us with that wind-down.

"In terms of being paid, that's something that we are also looking at this morning and we will be communicating with the employees this morning."

He added: "In normal circumstances we would undoubtedly talk to employees before any publicity. In this case, unfortunately, our appointment came after hours.

"We haven't had a chance yet to speak to individual employees."

Some customers who booked using credit cards may be able to get their money back, Mr Cartwright said, urging them to contact their credit card companies for information.

Customers will rank alongside other creditors during the wind-down process, with employees being the only "preferred" group.

But Mr Cartwright said: "Right now we are focused more on the human aspect of getting people back."