The package holiday firm XL is expected to declare itself bankrupt today, in a move which looks likely to send shockwaves through the British travel industry.

The firm, Britain's third-biggest tour operator, was trying to secure itself a multi-million pound rescue package last night, but the chances of it surviving looked slim. If the company does go under, thousands of holidaymakers could be left stranded overseas.

XL flies to 50 destinations, mainly in the Mediterranean and Caribbean, and has a fleet of 21 aircraft, all of which will be grounded immediately if the company declares itself bankrupt.

According to reports, XL has already contacted a number of rival airlines in the hope that they will agree to fly any stranded tourists back to Britain. Travellers who booked their holiday as a package deal would qualify for insurance cover, and should be refunded any money they spend on extra nights in their hotels. Those who used XL to book flights would be left out of pocket.

The rush for flights back to the UK with other carriers is also expected to be huge, so severe delays would be likely.