Thomas Cook passengers in Turkey frustrated by travel confusion

Holidaymakers stranded in Turkey complain of flight confusion and being locked out of hotel rooms during a second day of repatriation

British passengers queue up in a check-in service at Dalaman Airport after Thomas Cook, the world's oldest travel firm, collapsed stranding hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers around the globe and sparking the largest peacetime repatriation effort in British history, in Dalaman, Turkey, September 23, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
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The second day of the global repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Thomas Cook customers on Tuesday was marred by delays and frustration as travellers struggled to get home.

The UK government provided flights and agreed to pay hotel bills for around 150,000 tourists around the world – Britain’s largest repatriation operation since World War II – after the company failed to secure a financial rescue package and collapsed on Monday.

In Turkey, customers complained of being locked out of their rooms by hoteliers anxious about being paid, while passengers booked on the British tour operator's flights were left off replacement aircraft.

Britons Iain Morrison, 26, and Rebecca McLeod, 23, said they had been informed of a change to their flight home following a holiday in Turkey by email overnight. They had missed it, however, because they had been asleep and did not check their messages until after the plane had departed.

“We were supposed to be on the Glasgow flight but the [Civil Aviation Authority] sent us an email at 1am telling us to get on an earlier flight to Gatwick instead,” said Mr Morrison.

Thomas Cook holiday maker Tanya Ayres from Portsmouth, Britain, chats with a friend of her as they enjoy a pool after Thomas Cook, the world's oldest travel firm, collapsed stranding hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers around the globe and sparking the largest peacetime repatriation effort in British history, at a hotel in Fethiye, Turkey, September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

“We were obviously asleep at that time and didn’t see the email until 9am so we missed the flight.”

Ms McLeod added: “We were checking the CAA website, which even now still says we are booked on the flight to Glasgow.”

The couple, from Skye, an island off the north-west coast of Scotland, said 47 people had been told they could not get their original Glasgow flight as the replacement aircraft was not large enough to take all the passengers.

The confusion came after their hotel – the Sentido Perissa near Antalya in southern Turkey – locked them out of their rooms on Monday.

They wouldn't let anyone back into their rooms until they showed proof that they had Atol insurance

“They wouldn’t let anyone back into their rooms until they showed proof that they had Atol insurance,” said Mr Morrison, referring to a scheme that insures package holidaymakers. “Everyone was running around trying to print out emails of their reservations so they could get back into their rooms.”

The hotel’s manager, who declined to be named, said guests had been summoned for a meeting to collect proof of their Atol certification. He said the guests were reissued with room keys after the meeting.

Another couple trying to get home to Glasgow said they found one of them had been left off their flight.

“We checked the flight and it was at the same time just with a different airline, but when we got here we found that I’m on the passenger list but my partner isn’t,” said Scott MacKenzie, 49, speaking after trying to check-in at Antalya airport.

Partner Louise Gillon, 47, added: “We booked the flights together, we have the same reference number so I don’t understand why Scott’s on the flight and I’m not.”

Many tourists praised Thomas Cook holiday reps who, despite losing their jobs, had tried to help guests.

“I was a Thomas Cook rep last year so I know what it’s like,” said Ms Gillon. “They really feel for the guests and have gone all out to help us, even though they’re not working for Thomas Cook any more.”

In a bid to reassure hotel owners, the Turkish Tourism Ministry announced a short-term credit package for affected firms.

“These travellers should not be charged in any way [and] we have stated that we will investigate businesses that do not comply with this rule,” Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy said.

Tourism chiefs warned of a significant impact on Turkey, where the tourism industry is still recovering after the country was hit by a wave of terror attacks three years ago. Tourism is a major source of income for Turkey, with 40 million visitors bringing in US$29.5 billion (Dh108.34bn) last year, according to official figures.

“The commercial enterprises in our country that co-operated with Thomas Cook and hosted consumers on their behalf have suffered serious commercial losses,” said Firuz Baglikaya, head of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies.

Neset Kockar, chairman of Anex Tour in Turkey and a major Thomas Cook shareholder, said the 178-year-old firm owed “a few hundred million pounds” to Turkish businesses.

The head of Turkey’s Hoteliers’ Federation, Osman Ayik, said Thomas Cook’s collapse could see Turkey lose 600,000 to 700,000 tourists a year, based on the number of visitors who previously travelled with the company.

There were an estimated 21,000 British Thomas Cook customers in Turkey when the company went bust, according to the official Anadolu news agency.

Another 59,000 tourists from Scandinavia, Germany and Russia had also booked Turkish holidays or flights through Thomas Cook-related companies. So far they have been unaffected by the company’s collapse.