September 12, 2008

Holiday Nightmare As Firm Collapses ; TOURISTS STRANDED AT AIRPORT AS COMPANY FOLDS XL.Com Your Holiday Starts Here…


THOUSANDS of North East holidaymakers have been left stranded abroad after a major tour operator crashed.

And thousands more have seen their travel plans scuppered by the collapse of the XL Leisure Group, which was announced today.

The company, which flies to 13 different destinations out of Newcastle International Airport, has gone into administration, blaming rising fuel costs and the credit crunch.

Two flights set to leave Newcastle today were cancelled and dozens more have been axed.

Over the course of the next week XL flights to several destinations were due to leave Newcastle. Tomorrow a service to Dalaman in Turkey has been grounded followed by flights to Kefalonia and Zante in Greece on Sunday.

Services to Corfu and Madeira were due to leave on Monday while Tuesday's services to Tenerife and Malta have also been cancelled.

There are thousands of holidaymakers now trying to find a way back home from these destinations.

Barry Merritt, aged 44, of Westerhope, was due to fly to Tenerife tonight but after hearing the news he went to the airport to try to find a replacement for his pounds 200 ticket.

He said: "I was going out there with a friend to meet two other friends who are already there. The accommodation is booked so I am hoping to just pay for another ticket."

Stranded in Newcastle today were Sue and Glyn Jenkins who had been looking forward to their two-week holiday in Skiathos. They had been due to board the 8.45am flight.

Sue, 53, said "We didn't know anything about it until we came to check in. I was just shocked. We have bought the flight and accommodation separately so we are going to the travel agents tomorrow to try to find a new flight.

"We worked all year for this. It is our big trip. We have spent pounds 1,300 on the holiday which includes about pounds 500 for the flights".

XL carries around 50,000 passengers out of Newcastle every year. The plane due to go to Skiathos at today was set to return full of Geordie sun-seekers later today before going to Tenerife.

But holidaymakers were today advised not to come to the airport as XL's aircraft has been grounded. At a press conference at the Hilton Hotel, Gatwick Airport today, XL Leisure Group chief executive Phil Wyatt said he believed his firm should not have been forced to go into administration.

He said XL's management team had worked night and day to try to refinance the company and was still taking bookings last night but shortly before 3am today it was announced that administrators had been called in.

Mr Wyatt said: "Unfortunately it's been deemed by the authorities, the Government, whoever, that that's impossible.

I personally don't believe that's the case." He added it would be a huge challenge to bring home the 67,000 people overseas on holidays organised by XL.

A statement on the Foreign Office website said embassies were providing advice and information to those affected.

It said: "The CAA has put in place measures to ensure those overseas will be able to get home."

A Newcastle International Airport spokeswoman said: "We have great sympathy for customers who are abroad with XL and to those who were yet to travel.

"We can confirm that one XL Boeing 737-800 aircraft is on the ground at Newcastle.

This aircraft would have flown to Skiathos and Tenerife during the course of today. XL and associated companies were expected to carry around 50,000 customers from Newcastle this year.

"Any customers booked with any of the XL group of companies should visit their website for further information. The CAA has also published information and advice on their website: "A customer helpline has been established for customers who have purchased flights directly from the UK Group.

Customers abroad should call +44 208 242 4783. Customers calling from within the UK should call the free helpline 0800 068 8991."

In a statement on its website, XL Leisure Group said it had been hit by volatile fuel prices and the credit crunch.

Passengers yet to travel have been 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 linked to XL, the Really Great Holiday Company, Kosmar Holidays, Freedom Flights, and Aspire Holidays, are protected under the Air Travel Organisers' Licensing, (ATOL), scheme.

But anyone who booked direct with XL Airways are not covered and are urged to contact ATOL immediately.

Also stuck at the airport were Claire and Alan Banks who were looking forward to a weeks holiday in the Skiathos.

The couple from Cumbria are determined not to leave the departure lounge without booking a new flight. Claire, 49, said: "We are hoping to get a flight with Thompson to Corfu instead, and then get a flight from Corfu to Skiathos or even Athens and then get a ferry."

The CAA has also made an Emergency Helpline - +44 289 185 6547 - available to customers in particular distress.

"The Joint Administrators have set up helplines for customers who bought flights directly from the UK Group.

Customers abroad should call +44 208 242 4783. Customers calling from within the UK should call the free helpline 0800 068 8991," said a spokesman.

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