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UK Organizes an Air ‘Dunkirk’ for Stranded Thomas Cook Travelers

UK Organizes an Air ‘Dunkirk’ for Stranded Thomas Cook Travelers

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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, Online Career Tips

Almost 80 years ago, Britain staged the largest wartime evacuation in modern warfare. Between May 26 and June 4, 1940, some 300,000 British troops in France were rescued at Dunkirk from an advancing German army.

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Now Britain faces the largest civilian evacuation in its history. The sudden financial collapse of Thomas Cook, Britain’s oldest travel company, has left some 150,000 travelers stranded at vacation destinations around the world.

A fleet of jumbo jets is being organized by British authorities, including the Civil Aviation Authority, using funds generated from the Air Travel Organiser’s License (ATOL) group to rescue the travelers. ATOL is a UK financial protection plan that helps stranded travelers when a travel company collapses.

Operation Matterhorn Aims to Bring Thomas Cook Travelers Home as Soon as Possible

Codenamed Operation Matterhorn, the airlift organizers aim to bring everyone home as soon as possible, but some estimates say that could take as long as two weeks.

This peacetime evacuation supplants the collapse of Monarch Airlines in 2017, when the flights and vacations of about 110,000 people were cancelled and 1,800 employees lost their jobs.

Rescue Flights Apply Only to Travelers with UK Vacation Packages

However, the operation applies only to those travelers who have booked holiday/vacation packages that originated in the UK. Those who booked only flights, however, are not covered by ATOL.

The evacuation is complicated by the fact that Thomas Cook had its own fleet of aircraft, all of which have now been grounded.

The 178-year-old British institution went into “compulsory liquidation with immediate effect” Sunday evening after failing to find a buyer or funds to keep the company afloat. The liquidation affects about 21,000 jobs.

In a statement reported by CNN Business, Thomas Cook CEO Peter Fankhauser apologized to customers, employees, suppliers and partners. “This marks a deeply sad day for the company which pioneered packaged holidays and made travel possible for millions of people around the world,” he said.

UK Prime Minister Hints at Possible Legal Actions against Bankrupt Package Tours Executives

Upon arrival in New York for the UN General Assembly session this week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters that directors of travel firms who preside over bankruptcies might face possible government action. Citing the Monarch and Thomas Cook closures, Johnson said it was time “to reflect on whether the directors of these companies are properly incentivised to sort such matters out.” He also promised to “do our level best to get [the stranding travelers] home.”

Prepaid vacations began to gain in popularity in 1966 when the British government reinstituted a wartime ban on taking more than 50 pounds sterling ($125 USD) out of the country.

In 1969 British MP John Peel urged an end to the ban, calling it “an obstruction to one of the dearest freedoms of the British people, namely, our ancient freedom to travel and to move amongst other peoples and in other countries where and when we want.”

The ban was finally abolished 10 years later under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Today, there are no restrictions on the transfer of funds out of or into the UK. However, anyone carrying more than 10,000 pounds ($12,427 USD) or more in cash must declare the amount when entering or leaving the country.

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