September 15, 2008

Operation XL – the Biggest Ever Airlift to Bring 22,000 Home

By Michael Howie Home Affairs Correspondent

THE largest ever airlift of British holidaymakers stranded by a collapsed travel company was in full swing last night, as nearly 100 emergency flights were put in place to bring 22,000 people home.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) organised the repatriation of more than one quarter of the 85,000 holidaymakers who booked their foreign breaks through XL Leisure, which went bust on Friday.

As another 200,000 Britons saw their holiday plans ruined by the collapse of the UK's third-largest tour operator, the CAA insisted the "95 per cent" of those currently overseas would be returned home on the day their holidays were scheduled to end.

Some 94 flights were in place to return anxious holidaymakers up until this Friday. The destinations include Spain, the Greek islands, Turkey, Sardinia, Portugal, Egypt, Grenada and Florida.

Meanwhile, fears for the future of the travel industry grew yesterday. The Italian government held emergency talks over a plan to save Alitalia, as the bankrupt national airline risked having to ground flights for lack of fuel.

A second British tour operator also collapsed. The CAA said K&S Travel informed them it had ceased trading on Saturday night, leaving 150 passengers in Bodrum, Turkey, requiring alternative flights. A flight bringing Scottish holidaymakers from Larnaca, Cyprus, who flew out of Glasgow, was also due to arrive at Gatwick last night.

The passengers were expected to be then taken north by bus. Another flight from Tenerife returned Scottish holidaymakers on Friday via Manchester.

In an unprecedented show of industry co-operation, a string of airlines providing aircraft to carry out the airlift, including BA, bmi, British Midland, First Choice Airways,, Monarch Airlines, Thomsonfly and Virgin Atlantic.

Holidaymakers who booked package breaks through XL will be fully compensated, but about 10,000 people who paid for flights only through the company will have to make their own way home. To ease the financial burden, the CAA and several airlines are offering cheap fares for those not protected by Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (Atol) cover.

Richard Jackson, CAA director of consumer protection, said: "The CAA, with extensive help from the travel trade, has been working very hard to look after XL's customers. This is a massive logistical exercise, and its cost will be covered by the CAA's Atol funding arrangements."


TAXPAYERS are facing a multi-million-pound bill to meet the cost of the XL airlift.

A GBP 40 million bond lodged by XL with the Civil Aviation Authority will be used to meet the bill for returning about 75,000 holidaymakers who booked package deals through the failed company.

But it is anticipated that, when refunds are paid out to the 200,000 others who were looking forward to their holidays, the total cost could rise to GBP 60 million. That would force the government to bail out the CAA's compensation scheme, which is already GBP 21 million in deficit.

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