The UK's largest peacetime repatriation has been launched after more than 150,000 British holidaymakers have been left abroad following the collapse of travel giant Thomas Cook.
The tour operator has ceased trading after it failed to raise the £200 million needed to save it, despite crucial talks with the major shareholders and creditors over the weekend.
The 178-year-old company has cancelled all bookings, including flights and holiday, with immediate effect and has grounded all four of the group’s airlines.
Thomas Cook's chief executive, Peter Fankhauser, said it was a “deeply sad day” for his company, which had "worked exhaustively" to salvage a rescue package.
Richard Moriarty, the chief executive of the Civil Aviation Authority, said the Government had asked his organisation to launch "the UK's largest ever peacetime repatriation" which will involve flights from 53 airports in 18 countries.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said all customers currently abroad with Thomas Cook who are booked to return to the UK over the next two weeks will be brought home as close as possible to their booked return date.
The collapse also means that 21,000 employees across 16 countries, including 9,000 in the UK, will be left unemployed.
Unions representing Thomas Cook staff, of which there are 9,000 across the group in the UK, had previously urged the Government to intervene financially.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told talkRADIO it was a “very sad time” but the government was “not really into running travel companies as a strategic part of the economy”.
He added that there was a “broader responsibility” to get people home for the “wider interests of the economy” and that the government will be working to “see what help can be provided through a taskforce” for the British employees left without work.