Passengers booked on the first wave of Monarch flights were already at five UK airports, baffled at being unable to check in, when a brief text arrived announcing their holidays had been wrecked:
“Important! Monarch has stopped operating,” read the message sent out by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). “Please do not go to the airport.”
After 49 years of flying tens of millions of passengers to Europe and beyond, one of the proudest names in travel has collapsed — costing the jobs of 2,750 staff and the holiday plans of hundreds of thousands of travellers.
Simultaneously, the UK’s biggest-ever peacetime airlift got under way to bring 110,000 holidaymakers home more or less as scheduled, with chartered jets despatched to airports across Europe.
But even though many of the planes began their journeys at UK airports, they are flying out empty — leaving 300,000 heartbroken holidaymakers to try to figure out some way of rescuing their long-planned trips, as fares soared for alternative flights.
The CAA said: “Everyone due to fly in the next fortnight will be brought back to the UK at no cost to them. There is no need to cut short your stay.”
The authority’s chief executive, Andrew Haines, Chief Executive of the CAA, said: “We are putting together, at very short notice and for a period of two weeks, what is effectively one of the UK’s largest airlines to manage this task.
“The scale and challenge of this operation means that some disruption is inevitable. We ask customers to bear with us as we work around the clock to bring everyone home.”
The authority has chartered more than 30 aircraft to bring back Monarch passengers, some of them from Qatar Airways. It aims to fly a schedule as close as possible to the original Monarch plans, though this will not be straightforward because the replacement planes have different capacities.
The Airbuses used by Qatar have around 50 fewer seats than most Monarch planes.
The CAA has set up a dedicated website monarch.caa.co.uk, which it says is the best source of advice and information for affected customers, as well as a 24 hour helpline: 0300 303 2800 from the UK, +44 1753 330330 from overseas.
Andrew Swaffield, Monarch’s chief executive, blamed the collapse on the effects of terrorism.
“The root cause is the closure, due to terrorism, of Sharm-El- Sheikh and Tunisia and the decimation of Turkey,” he said in a letter to staff.
“Since 2015 we’ve seen yields collapse by a quarter, resulting in £160m less revenue. This has especially affected Spain and Portugal which is 80 per cent of our business.
“This year the airline is carrying 14 per cent more passengers than last year for £100m less revenue.
“Many of you have spent years working for this company and I want to thank you again for your service and loyalty. I am truly sorry that it has ended like this.”
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