Thomas Cook goes bust: What is Operation Matterhorn and how will holidaymakers get home?

23 September 2019, 08:26

A security guard on duty today at Thomas Cook's HQ
A security guard on duty today at Thomas Cook's HQ. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

Thomas Cook has ceased trading with immediate effect after the firm failed to reach a deal with creditors.

The collapse has left over 150,000 people stranded abroad. The effort to get them home has been codenamed Operation Matterhorn.

It is the biggest ever peacetime repatriation of Brits. But what is it and how is it being undertaken?

Thomas Cook goes under

After the collapse, more than 150,000 British holidaymakers are currently abroad and will need to be repatriated as a result of the 178-year-old firm's collapse, the Civil Aviation Authority said.

The CAA said in a statement: "All Thomas Cook bookings, including flights and holidays, have now been cancelled. There are currently more than 150,000 Thomas Cook customers abroad, almost twice the number that were repatriated following the failure of Monarch.

"We know that a company with such long-standing history ceasing trading will be very distressing for its customers and employees and our thoughts are with everyone affected by this news."

The group's four airlines will be grounded and its 21,000 employees in 16 countries, including 9,000 in the UK, will be left unemployed.

The company also operated around 600 UK high street stores.

How are people being brought home?

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said the Government had asked it to launch a repatriation programme over the next two weeks, starting on Monday and running to Sunday 6 October, to bring Thomas Cook customers back to the UK. The boss of the CAA described it as launching “what is effectively one of the UK’s largest airlines.”

The CAA statement said: "Due to the unprecedented number of UK customers currently overseas who are affected by the situation, the Civil Aviation Authority has secured a fleet of aircraft from around the world to bring passengers back to the UK with return flights.

"Passengers in a small number of destinations may return on alternative commercial flights, rather than directly through the Civil Aviation Authority's flying programme. Details and advice for these passengers are available on the dedicated website.

"Due to the significant scale of the situation, some disruption is inevitable, but the Civil Aviation Authority will endeavour to get people home as close as possible to their planned dates. This will apply to both Atol protected passengers and those who are not protected.

"Customers currently overseas should not travel to the airport until their flight back to the UK has been confirmed on the dedicated website.

"Thomas Cook customers in the UK yet to travel should not go to the airport as all flights leaving the UK have been cancelled."

What has Thomas Cook said?

Thomas Cook's chief executive Peter Fankhauser said: “This is a statement I hoped I would never have to make,"

"Following a decision by the board late last night, the UK Government's official receiver was appointed in the early hours of this morning, the 23rd of September, to take control of Thomas Cook.

"Despite huge efforts over a number of months and further intense negotiations in recent days, we have not been able to secure a deal to save our business.

“I know that this outcome will be devastating to many people and will cause a lot of anxiety, stress and disruption."

I've booked a trip. What do I do?

All bookings have been cancelled and, according to the CAA, Thomas Cook customers in the UK who have yet to travel should not go to the airport as all flights leaving the UK have been grounded.

A website has been set up at and the helpline number for people in the UK is 0300 303 2800. The number from abroad is +44 1753 330 330.