The largest peacetime repatriation effort in UK's history has begun after British travel firm Thomas Cook collapsed on Monday, stranding 600,000 holidaymakers around the globe.
Emergency flights brought 14,700 people back to the United Kingdom and around 135,300 more are expected to be returned over the next 13 days, Britain's aviation regulator said Tuesday.
"With 13 days remaining and approximately 135,300 passengers still to bring back to the UK, we are working around the clock, in conjunction with the government and the aviation industry, to deliver the flying programme after Thomas Cook ceased trading," the regulator said.
Seventy-four flights were scheduled on Tuesday, to bring back 16,500 people.
The company went out of business after it failed to secure a rescue package from its lenders in frantic talks that went through the weekend.
British Prime Minister Boris said Thomas Cook had made a request to the government for around 150 million pounds but that bailing it out would have set up "a moral hazard in the case of future such commercial difficulties that companies face".
"I would like to apologise to our millions of customers, and thousands of employees, suppliers and partners who have supported us for many years," Chief Executive Peter Fankhauser said in a statement released early on Monday morning.
"It is a matter of profound regret to me and the rest of the board that we were not successful."
The UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said Thomas Cook had ceased trading and the regulator and government had a fleet of planes ready to start bringing home the more than 150,000 British customers over the next two weeks.
The liquidation marks the end of the world's oldest travel firm that started life in 1841. The firm ran hotels, resorts and airlines for 19 million people a year in 16 countries.
The government and aviation regulator said that due to the scale of the situation some disruption was inevitable. All the company's flights are cancelled.
In Spain alone, 46 flights were cancelled on Monday.
Customers were told not to travel to airports until they have been told via a special website - thomascook.caa.co.uk - that they were due on a return flight that was being organised by the government.
Holidaymakers stranded by the collapse of Thomas Cook desperately scrambled for information on Monday on how to get home.
"Nightmare, nightmare, stressed," said British holidaymaker Nick, as he awaited information at Palma airport on the Spanish island of Mallorca.
In Greece, where about 50,000 people are stranded, the tourism minister said repatriation was underway.
"Extra flights have been booked at Greek airports and already the first 15 have come to ensure those people go back smoothly to their homeland. Also, the cost of their stay for the rest of their holidays is being covered," said Minister Harry Theoharis.
60 million euros debt in Tunisia
Thomas Cook owes Tunisian hotels 60 million euros for stays in July and August, Tourism Minister Rene Trabelsi told Reuters on Monday, adding that 4,500 British Thomas Cook customers are still in the country.
The British regulator is contacting hotels hosting Thomas Cook customers to tell them that they will be paid by the government, through an insurance scheme. That was after some were briefly held in a hotel in Tunisia when staff asked for additional payments to be made.
In Germany, a major customer market for Thomas Cook, insurance companies will coordinate the response.
In the longer term, Thomas Cook's collapse could hit the tourism sectors in the company's biggest destinations, such as Spain and Turkey.
Turkey could miss out on 600,000-700,000 tourists a year following the collapse of British tourism agency Thomas Cook on Monday, the head of Turkey's Hoteliers Federation (TUROFED) said.
Pictures posted on social media showed Thomas Cook planes being diverted away from the normal airport stands. Some were left deserted once passengers and staff had departed. Employees posted pictures of themselves walking from their last flights.
"Love my job so much, don't want it to end," Kia Dawn Hayward, a member of the company's cabin crew, said on Twitter.
Thomas Cook has been brought low by a 1.7 billion pound (€1.9 billion) debt pile, online competition, a changing travel market and geopolitical events that can upend its summer season.
Last year's European heatwave also hit the company hard as customers put off last-minute bookings.
The group had seemed set for a rescue when it agreed the key terms of a 900 million pound recapitalisation plan in a deal with its biggest shareholder, China's Fosun, and the travel firm's banks in August.
But in finalising the terms of the deal, the company was hit with a demand for another facility of 200 million pounds in underwritten funds by its banks.
Fosun said it was disappointed by the company's failure to strike a deal with its banks and bondholders, and noted it had remained supportive throughout.
The recapitalisation plan was "no longer applicable given the compulsory liquidation" of Thomas Cook, Fosun said in a statement.
With headlines swirling that Thomas Cook was in trouble, suppliers started calling in their debts and future customers went elsewhere, draining the company of the cash it needed to keep operating.