September 15, 2008

Airlift Brings First of Stranded Scots Home Civil Aviation Authority Vows to Repatriate All Those Affected

By Jeremy Watson

HUNDREDS of passengers caught up in the XL tour company crash were last night back in Scotland as part of "the most challenging" emergency airlift ever undertaken by airlines.

Two flights arrived at Glasgow Airport early yesterday morning carrying holidaymakers from Dalaman in Turkey after being switched from a grounded XL plane to Freebird, a Turkish airline.

Last night, other stranded XL passengers from Tenerife were flown by Monarch Airlines into Manchester before being bussed back north of the border.

Meanwhile, in Glasgow yesterday, travel agencies helped to find new flights or alternative holidays for some of the 200,000 XL customers whose plans went up in smoke when the company went into administration early on Friday morning.

More than 85,000 holidaymakers already on their foreign breaks, including Turkey, Spain and the US, were left stranded.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) yesterday vowed to repatriate all those affected, saying most would get home on their intended departure date or the day after.

The Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (Atol) Scheme, which checks tour operators and travel organisers, said "repatriation aircraft" were being scrambled.

Atol said stranded XL passengers will be returning to the UK both on specially chartered flights and on already scheduled flights with spare seats. Virgin Airlines is offering one-way fares from the Caribbean until the end of September for those struggling to get home.

The repatriation operation is expected to cost GBP 20m and require seats equivalent to 450 aircraft flights.

Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson yesterday called for an urgent review of rules governing failed airlines. He said new procedures should be brought in, allowing a collapsed firm's fleet of planes to continue to fly under the watch of the aviation regulator to avoid emergency rescue operations.

Travel agents in Scotland were inundated yesterday with XL customers trying to arrange alternative flights or holidays.

Bill Munro, chairman of Barrhead Travel, which has a shop at Glasgow Airport, said: "We have had all these unfortunate people turning up asking for help. Many of them have saved all year for their holidays and it was heartbreaking to see them. They have had their hopes dashed.

"We worked until 11pm on Friday night and we were back again at 8am to see what we could do. It's been busy all day but hopefully it will start to quieten down. About 40 per cent of passengers are cancelling their holidays altogether while the rest are rebooking."

The first batches of those due to return began to trickle home yesterday in the rescue operation described by Peter Wyatt, chief executive of failed XL, as the "the most challenging airlift ever undertaken".

At Manchester, holidaymaker David Halligan told how he had to spend GBP 800 to get his family home from Florida.

The 50-year-old engineer

said: "We were rung early morning by friends saying XL had gone under so we proceeded to get ourselves sorted out."

Their XL flight was from Orlando Sanford International Airport but they had to travel 34 miles to Orlando International Airport to pick up a Virgin Atlantic flight.

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