2 Years On: Remembering Thomas Cook Airlines

September 23rd, 2019, marked the end of Thomas Cook Airlines. It was on this day, exactly two years…

2 Years On: Remembering Thomas Cook Airlines

September 23rd, 2019, marked the end of Thomas Cook Airlines. It was on this day, exactly two years ago, that bankruptcy was declared, stranding hundreds of thousands of travelers. In the days leading up to the declaration, the airline had been meeting with key players, desperately hoping to avoid a total collapse. Let’s take a look back at Thomas Cook Airlines and how it finally came undone.

Thomas Cook Airlines was a leisure-focused carrier based in the UK. Photo: Getty Images

£200m needed for survival

In the days leading up to Thomas Cook’s declaration of bankruptcy, the firm had been on a desperate search for £200m of extra funding. As we reported two years ago, the carrier’s leadership filled the office of a London law firm on September 22nd to meet with the airline’s largest shareholder, a Chinese conglomerate by the name of Fosun.

Despite working late into the night, no progress was made, forcing Thomas Cook Airlines to officially declare bankruptcy just after 02:00 London time.

Flights stopped operating, ticket sales were halted, and one of the UK’s largest repatriation efforts was soon to begin as over a hundred thousand UK-based Thomas Cook customers would find themselves stranded abroad.

2 Years On: Remembering Thomas Cook Airlines
British tourists, clients of the Thomas Cook travel group, are photographed waiting at counters to be repatriated, at the Heraclion airport on the island of Crete, on September 24, 2019. Photo: Getty Images

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Stranded travelers look to be repatriated

With hundreds of thousands of Thomas Cook customers affected, panic took hold at many airports and hotels. For some, travel insurance would be the solution. For others who had booked a package holiday through a travel agent, government-led repatriation would be the answer.

Indeed, repatriation was conducted for package holiday holders because of Thomas Cook’s status as an ATOL holder, or Air Travel Organiser’s Licence. Each ATOL holder is required to pay a £2.50 fee for each passenger within a booking. This money goes to a fund owned by the Air Travel Trust, which is set aside for situations such as these.

An impressively large-scale operation, the Thomas Cook collapse prompted the UK’s biggest repatriation since WW2. Dubbed ‘Operation Matterhorn,’ over 150,000 Thomas Cook passengers were flown back to the UK using wet-leased aircraft, and aircraft from other airlines.

Discussing the operation, UK Civil Aviation Authority head Richard Moriarty called it “the largest peacetime repatriation ever [requiring] an extraordinary effort from all involved.” Dame Deirdre Hutton, Chair of UK’s CAA, described it as “12-hour shifts, no weekends, doing something you’ve never done before.”

Malaysia A380
A Malaysian Airlines A380 was secured as part of repatriation efforts. Photo: Airbus

Finding available aircraft was particularly difficult at the time, and made worse by the worldwide grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX. However, Matterhorn teams prevailed, securing the services of A380s from both Hi Fly and Malaysian Airlines, among dozens of other aircraft.

According to Travel Daily News, over 130 aircraft were involved as part of the Matterhorn fleet. Indeed, on October 2nd alone, 42 flights operated to bring back around 6,500 passengers. Furthermore, a whopping 127,000 travelers were flown back to the UK in the first ten days of the operation.

What happened to Thomas Cook’s aircraft?

Most of the airline’s Airbus A321s were returned to their lessors. These companies were Air Lease Corporation, Aviation Capital Group, Aviation PLC, Avolon, BBAM, Castlelake, Carlyle Aviation Partners, and ICBC. Certain examples went straight to other airlines, such as SmartLynx and Avion Express. One A321, registered G-TCDZ, was scrapped.

thomas cook a321
Most Airbus A321s were returned to lessors. Photo: Bernd K Wikimedia Commons

Some of the airline’s A330-200s were scrapped after the collapse. The jets torn down in Manchester in February 2021 were registered G-MDBD, G-MLJL, and G-OMYT. Meanwhile, four A330s were returned to lessors. One went back to Air Lease Corporation, with the remaining three to Aviation Capital Group.

Given everything that has happened in the world of aviation since Thomas Cook’s collapse, the airline’s demise feels like a distant and faded dream and something relatively minuscule compared to what would take place six months later. With its long history, the airline will be remembered fondly by many.

Were you affected by Thomas Cook Airlines’ collapse? Let us know by leaving a comment.

Source : Simple Flying More   

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What Happened To XL Airways?

XL Airways used to be a significant name in the UK leisure market, operating charter flights both to…

What Happened To XL Airways?

XL Airways used to be a significant name in the UK leisure market, operating charter flights both to European destinations and further afield. You may remember that its story came to an end in 2008, but how did this happen? Let’s examine the airline’s fate, and how it was outlived by its two French and German counterpart airlines under the XL brand.

XL had hubs at Glasgow, London Gatwick, and Manchester. Photo: MilborneOne via Wikimedia Commons

Various name changes

XL Airways UK came into existence in 1994 under the name Sabre Airways, commencing operations on December 17th that year. Under this identity, the airline flew Boeing narrowbodies such as the 727 and 737 to European leisure destinations.

The turn of the century saw the charter carrier undergo a rebrand, after the Libra Holidays Group acquired a 67% stake in the carrier in November 2000. As a result, it took on the name Excel Airways. Its destinations in the early to mid-2000s were still primarily European, although Excel’s network did stretch beyond Europe to Egypt and St Lucia.

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Sabre Airways Boeing 727
Sabre Airways commenced operations in December 1994. Photo: RuthAS via Wikimedia Commons

The XL Leisure Group purchased the carrier in October 2006. In May that year, Excel merged with Air Atlanta Europe, which had seen it briefly take on three Boeing 747-300s. The purchase by XL prompted another rebrand, to XL Airways. Of course, audibly, this sounded the same as the previous name, but it gave a visual indicator of the group’s involvement.

The end of the line

2006 also saw XL acquire Star Airlines France and Star Europe, which it rebranded as XL Airways France and XL Airways Germany respectively. However, XL Airways UK only operated under this name for two years. On September 11th, 2008, the XL Group filed for administration, causing 11 of its companies to cease operations the next day, including XL Airways UK.

Excel Airways Boeing 767
The carrier became known as Excel Airways in 2000. Photo: Simon Butler via Flickr

XL Airways UK’s collapse had an extensive fallout. It stranded some 90,000 passengers abroad. The CAA arranged numerous charters to return the stranded passengers home. One of these, operated by Astraeus, was even flown by Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson. It also meant that the airline only paid London-based football club West Ham United £2.5 million ($3.5 million) of an existing £7.5 million ($10.6 million) sponsorship deal.

Outlived by French and German partners

XL Airways France and XL Airways Germany were not affected by the wider group folding. As such, they were able to continue operating despite their UK-based counterpart’s struggles. On the day of XL’s collapse, both were acquired by the Straumur Investment Bank.

XL Airways Boeing 737
XL Airways UK’s collapse stranded 90,000 passengers abroad. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

XL Airways Germany flew for another five years, before eventually collapsing in January 2013. This came shortly after it filed for bankruptcy in December 2012, having already suspended its winter schedules. At the time of its collapse, XL Airways Germany was operating a small fleet consisting of five Boeing 737-800 aircraft. Its main hub was Frankfurt.

Meanwhile, XL Airways France was operational until 2019. By its closure, it was operating an All-Airbus A330 fleet, and even had the A330neo on order. However, in September 2019, it suspended ticket sales due to financial difficulties. Despite appealing to Air France for help, it ceased operations by the end of the month. In October 2019, a French court ruled that the airline could not be saved, and thus ordered its liquidation.

Do you remember XL Airways? Perhaps you even flew with the carrier, either under this identity or its former guise of Sabre Airways? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Source : Simple Flying More   

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