In 1841, Thomas Cook founded the travel business that has carried his name to charter a train for travel to a temperance rally. Since then, the company has arranged the travel of millions of people through its travel agents and its airline.
But today’s customers may well want to pour themselves a stiff drink: After 178 years in business, Thomas Cook suddenly ceased operations last week, disrupting the travel of 600,000 vacationers currently on the road. (Condor Airways, which is owned by the German arm of Thomas Cook, is apparently not affected by the collapse and will continue operating as normal.)
The largest chunk of those clients are Brits (estimated to be 160,000 people), along with a fair number from Germany, France, and other parts of Europe.
To a large degree, most U.K. customers should be protected: The country's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has announced that it will launch the nation’s largest peacetime repatriation effort in history. Using its own planes along with regularly scheduled flights, it will bring home all British customers currently stranded abroad at no additional expense to them. The English press is reporting that U.K. customers will be waiting for flights for up to two weeks.
That’s something it must do by law, since Thomas Cook, like all British travel packagers, is party to the Air Travel Organizers License, a governmental protection program designed to automatically safeguard travel purchases.
A web page has been set up at https://thomascook.caa.co.uk/customers/if-you-are-currently-abroad to help U.K. passengers with their new flight arrangements. In addition, there are phone numbers for customers stranded in the United States (888/747-7477) and for customers traveling on French passports (01-45-05-40-81).
Unfortunately, the same protections do not exist for Canadian and American customers. Those passengers should check with both their credit card companies and their travel insurance companies (if they bought insurance) to find out what help is available and what will and won’t be covered.
As customers make their way back home, it's extremely important to save all travel receipts, because although they may be reimbursed later, they will only be reimbursed with proof of those expenses.
Those who purchased Thomas Cook vacations for the future should contact their credit card companies right away. U.K. travelers should be able to obtain refunds through CAA, though with so many Thomas Cook passengers to process, we're guessing this could take months.
All of this reminds us that even the most established travel companies can, and do, go out of business from time to time, no matter how healthy they appear to be.
Most countries don't have consumer protections as strong as the United Kingdom's. That is why it is so important to purchase travel insurance before a major trip.
Furthermore, that insurance should never be purchased from the company you’re buying travel from. If it goes belly up, there will be no one answering the phones, and you’ve likely lost your insurance, too.
Only buy policies that protect travelers if a travel company ceases operations—surprisingly, not all policies cover this issue.
To find the right policy for you, we highly recommend searching such marketplaces as InsureMyTrip.com, SquareMouth.com, and TravelInsurance.com.
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