Thomas Cook: Operation Matterhorn ends and claims process begins

A leading travel figure has criticised the way that customers’ cash was handled

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Monday 07 October 2019 11:23
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Inside 'Operation Matterhorn' the Thomas Cook rescue mission to repatriate stuck travellers

Two weeks on from the collapse of Thomas Cook, the repatriation airlift known as Operation Matterhorn has ended – and customers are now able to claim refunds.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) says that it has brought more than 140,000 Thomas Cook customers back to the UK, with the final 392 passengers arriving at Manchester airport on a Hi-Fly Airbus A380 from Orlando at Manchester at 8.32am.

Richard Moriarty, chief executive at the CAA, said: “The largest peacetime repatriation ever required an extraordinary effort from all involved.

“I want to thank everyone who has played their part in delivering this enormous undertaking, including the passengers we flew home for bearing with us as we undertook this complex operation.”

The £100m airlift will be 60 per cent funded by the Air Travel Trust fund, made up of Atol contributions. The remainder – for travellers on flight-only deals – will be paid for by the taxpayer.

Most of the 800,000 people with future holidays booked with Thomas Cook can finally start the claims process, applying for their money back through the CAA’s Atol scheme.

Online applications at thomascook.caa.co.uk/refunds opened on Monday morning.

There were reports that the website crashed because of the volume of claims after two weeks of waiting.

The process is straightforward. Claimants need the Thomas Cook reference number, and must also fill in the amount they have paid to the company.

The applicant must also provide their bank account number and sort code.

The requirement has heightened concerns about scams seeking to extract financial details from unwitting Thomas Cook customers.

The CAA has warned that claimants cannot expect a rapid response: “We are aiming to complete our assessment of your claim within the next 60 days,” they are told.

It comes as a leading travel figure has criticised the authorities for allowing the firm’s failure to happen.

Mike Gooley, founder and chairman of one of the UK’s most successful travel businesses, Trailfinders, has said that all travellers’ payments should be safeguarded until the holiday has taken place.

“The opportunity to ring-fence client funds and properly protect consumer’s funds in travel has been spurned repeatedly,” he said.

“Travellers booked on Thomas Cook will wait weeks or possibly months for their refunds from the Air Travel Trust fund, which will restrict many from rebooking their holiday.”

Trailfinders keeps customers’ money in a separate trust account until the trip is finished, whereupon the cash is paid.

Gooley said that with the taxpayer picking up the £40m cost of flying non-Atol passengers back free of charge, the message to consumers is: “Book with a big airline for free protection.”

The Trailfinders boss asked: “In their death throes Thomas Cook were offering discounts to bring in bookings – close to or below – cost to stay liquid. Were they in fact trading while insolvent?”

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Two hours before Thomas Cook collapsed, it sold a one-week package holiday in Corfu for £187 for travel in October, including flights, transfers and accommodation.

Gooley also predicted: “The ripple effects of Thomas Cook will see dozens of tour operator failures in the next couple of months.”

Many smaller companies had planned to use Thomas Cook to fly their customers. These firms are faced with the prospect of paying far higher fares, or handing their clients full refunds. They cannot simply ask travellers to pay more.

The collapse of Thomas Cook is expected to dominate the annual convention of Abta, the travel association, which is getting underway in Tokyo.

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