September 12, 2008

Holidays Collapse Misery ; Thousands Hit As Firm Goes Bust

By Jasbir Authi

TENS of thousands of Midland holidaymakers were left stranded at home and abroad today after the UK's third largest tour operator went into administration, grounding all flights.

XL Leisure Group declared bankruptcy early today after failing to secure a rescue package amid deep financial difficulties.

Birmingham couple Theo Clarke and Sarah Brookes, who had been due to fly to the Greek island of Santorini to get married, were among those hit by the collapse.

The firm declared itself bankrupt early today, leaving more than 50,000 holidaymakers like them stranded at home and abroad.

A further 200,000 customers had advance bookings with the XL tour operators.

Thousands of customers who booked direct with XL or its subsidiary companies have been told they must pay for flights back to Britain from 50 destinations including America, Egypt, the Caribbean and Africa.

Many due to fly out today were only told that their holidays were off when they arrived at the airport.

Managers declared the firm bankrupt early today after failing to secure a rescue package amid deep financial difficulties.

The group, which had still been taking holiday bookings until around midnight, said all its flights had been cancelled and its fleet of aircraft grounded.

It blamed rising fuel costs and the credit crunch for the early hours collapse.

They were among thousands who booked direct with XL to fly from East Midlands, Manchester or Gatwick Airports, and could lose more than pounds 1,000.

The ill-fated firm does not operate from Birmingham Airport but does take seats on charter flights operating from the airport.

Two flights operating under the XL Airways banner had been due to leave East Midlands airport today for the Greek island of Skiathos and Tenerife.

Passengers who had already flown to Corfu, Lanzarote, Majorca, Rhodes, Cyprus, Egypt and other Greek islands have been told to make their own arrangements to get home. Holidaymakers yet to travel were told to make alternative arrangements while those already on holiday will be brought home on flights arranged by the Civil Aviation Authority.

Customers who booked through four tour operators - The Really Great Holiday Company, Kosmar Holidays, Freedom Flights, and Aspire Holidays - are protected under the Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (ATOL) scheme, it said.

But those who booked direct with an XL Group company were urged to contact ATOL immediately.

Theo Clarke and Sarah Brookes, both from Sutton Coldfield, had been due to fly out with their family to the Greek island of Santorini on Tuesday to get married.

Mr Clarke, aged 29, said: "We booked the fights last year and we were pretty much ready.

"We were due to fly out at 6am on Tuesday from Manchester Airport and had booked our accommodation.

"To add insult to injury, we logged on to the company's site just eight hours before it went bust to add extra baggage and paid pounds 40. The website didn't say anything.

"I was told the news this morning just after 6am by my parents."

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