A final flight from Orlando Florida marked the end of the biggest peacetime repatriation in UK history as the Civil Aviation Authority brought home more than 140,000 passengers stranded by the Thomas Cook collapse.
Now comes the equally mammoth task of processing 360,000 refunds involving 800,000 people affected by the September 23 collapse of the world’s oldest travel firm.
The 360,000 bookings are eligible for a refund under the UK’s ATOL scheme and the launch of an online refunds claim form on Monday saw the website deluged with 60,000 requests in the first few hours and caused initial delays.
The flight marking the end of “Operation Matterhorn” arrived at Manchester airport with 392 passengers on board.
The successful operation involved the use of 150 aircraft from 50 partners around the world and some 94 percent of those repatriated flew back on the original days of their Thomas Cook flight.
CAA chief executive Richard Moriarty said the airlift 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,’’ he said.
“I also want to pay tribute to the many amazing former Thomas Cook employees who worked with us to make this operation a success.
“It needed an unprecedented team effort from our commercial partners, our friends across government and my colleagues at the CAA.”
The refunds are being made under the Air travel Organisers’ Licensing scheme has been operating since 1973 to provide financial security for travelers booking package trips with UK travel companies.
ATOL holders pay a fee for each traveler, which is held in a trust and then used to refund or repatriate travelers affected by a collapse.
Already in progress are refunds for more than 24,000 direct debit payments and the CAA said these should be returned to customers by October 14.
“We know that customers are devastated by the cancellation of their holidays. Those who bought a Thomas Cook ATOL protected holiday are entitled to a full refund of all the money they have paid towards the cost of their holiday,’’ Moriarty said.
“In addition to this, ATOL protected passengers that were abroad when the company went into liquidation might be able to claim for out of pocket expenses.
“The sheer number of refunds means this will be the largest ever ATOL reimbursement program.
“The CAA is working around the clock with our partners so that customers receive their refunds as quickly as possible.”