September 15, 2008

Thousands Still Stranded at Airports CAA to Help XL Passengers Get Home As Another Travel Firm Folds


THOUSANDS of British tourists were stranded at airports around the world for the third day yesterday as news broke of another British tour operator going bust.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) yesterday said it had arranged the repatriation to the UK of 22,090 customers of failed travel firm XL Leisure Group, most of whom are expected back in the country by the end of today.

The aviation authority said it was trying to replicate the XL flight programme over the next fortnight to minimise the inconvenience to the firm's 30,000 clients who are still on holiday.

The CAA said it was also helping "flight only" customers of XL not covered by the Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (Atol) scheme to secure flights back to the UK at a "reasonable price".

About 85,000 Britons were stranded in the US, Europe, north Africa and the Caribbean after the collapse on Friday of XL, which was Britain's third largest tour operator.

A travel industry expert yesterday said that he believed about 30,000 customers who booked flights directly with the company may lose almost GBP20 million because they were not covered for compensation.

The CAA's commitment came as it emerged that up to 150 people have been left stranded in Turkey after the collapse of a north- London based tour operator.

K&S Travel, which also trades under the name Travel Turkey, organises package tours to the country through flights chartered with Onur Air.

The announcement on Friday that XL was going into administration due to the combined effect of high oil prices and the credit crunch came days after Scottish package holiday operator Seguro Travel went bust and just over two weeks after the collapse of Zoom Airlines.

It has emerged since XL's failure that a former auditor resigned in 2006 warning of "financial irregularities" at the firm.

Accountancy firm KPMG claimed that it had been blocked from investigating alleged misrepresentations by "certain directors" that could have led to "material errors" in company reports.

Bookmakers are now taking bets as to who will be next to fall victim to harshening conditions in the travel sector.

Italian flag carrier Alitalia is also said to be teetering on the edge. Last-ditch efforts to save the airline were held throughout yesterday.

On Friday, British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh predicted that another 30 airlines would disappear over the coming months, doubling the number that have already gone bust this year.

It emerged at the weekend that Iron Maiden heavy metal star Bruce Dickinson, who is also a fully qualified Boeing 757 pilot, captained a specially-chartered Monarch Airlines flight from Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, on Friday and flew about 200 passengers home from the Greek island of Kos.

A spokesman for Astraeus, the airline he works for, said that Dickinson has been employed as a full-time member of staff for the past seven years and regularly pilots planes that fly to Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Meanwhile, trains carrying cars began to travel through the fire- hit Channel Tunnel again yesterday after its operator, Eurotunnel, announced that it had begun a limited service. It said the first car shuttle left the French port of Calais at 7am.

Travellers have faced chaotic journeys between Britain and the continent since Thursday's fire in the tunnel under the English Channel.

The north tunnel remains shut while authorities investigate the blaze, although the unaffected south tunnel reopened on Saturday allowing limited Eurostar and rail freight services to start.

Eurotunnel said efforts were being made to open the two non- damaged sections of the north tunnel "within days".

However, a statement "strongly recommended" that motorists make alternative travel arrangements as they are likely to face a "very restricted timetable" for at least the next week.

Originally published by Newsquest Media Group.

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