K Oanh Ha and Ania Nussbaum
Minutes after the tour operator filed for liquidation early Monday, holiday makers took to Twitter and social media platforms to vent their anger and seek help over nixed holidays and flights.
Layton Roche, of Bolton, U.K., tweeted he and his bride-to-be were packed and ready to get on a plane to the Greek island of Kos to celebrate their wedding. He implored Thomas Cook to keep it together for the "next 24 hours" to make it happen.
Four hours later, the bad news hit.
The bankruptcy filing of the 178-year-old travel company in London early Monday morning effectively canceled all holidays and flights booked through the company's units, leaving the U.K. to mount what it said will be the largest peacetime repatriation of hundreds of thousands of stranded travelers.
As the company seeks protection to work through its mounting debt problems, tourists and holiday makers are inundating the U.K.'s Civil Aviation Authority for help to make their way home, leaving some who have paid for but not yet started their trips out of luck.
Jack Cousens, a 27-year-old menswear buyer from Essex, England, was getting ready to check out of his Cancun hotel in Mexico after a week-long vacation to fly to Gatwick when he read on social media that Thomas Cook flights were canceled.
He had trouble getting into the aviation regulator's website initially. A few hours later, Cousens managed to get through and is scheduled for a flight in the morning to Manchester instead of his original Gatwick destination. He's still anxious about what awaits him.
"My biggest concern is that there will be chaos at the airport," he said. "They've combined two fully booked Thomas Cook flights into one. I don't see how there will realistically be space."
The U.K. government and the CAA kicked off "Operation Matterhorn" to bring back vacationers due to fly back to the U.K. with Thomas Cook between Sept. 23 and October 6, according to the authority's website. Depending on the location of the stranded tourists, the new flight arrangements will be on either CAA-operated flights or existing flights with other airlines, it said.
"The repatriation is hugely complex and we are working around the clock to support passengers," CAA said.
About 150,000 Britons, along with 350,000 foreign nationals, are stranded on Thomas Cook holidays, the Financial Times reported.
After Oct. 6, travelers will need to make their own arrangements, according to the CAA. The repatriation flights are only for passengers whose trips started in the U.K. It urged travelers with booked vacations -- who have not departed -- not to commence travel.
Many tourists expressed frustration with the lack of details on social media. While others who had booked paid-up Thomas Cook holidays were mulling any recourse.
Tourists who have booked holiday packages with travel firms licensed in the U.K. are eligible for a full refund under the U.K.'s aviation travel protection regulation, according to the CAA.