Palma Airport in Majorca resembles a near-refugee crisis. Staff from the Foreign Office wearing yellow vests that read “UK Government” work to reassure passengers.
Babies cry and adults sleep on the floor. A mother fights back tears as she discovers the special assistance she booked for her two children with learning difficulties no longer exists.
“It’s an utter mess,” she says. “I have two children with autism with me. I paid extra for help and it’s nowhere to be seen.”
Aircraft are scarce too. The five Thomas Cook flights scheduled from Palma to UK airports today have now been condensed into three. The new flight times are already out of the window.
The first test was the 10:35am replacement flight to Birmingham for passengers originally destined for Glasgow as well as the Midlands.
Hours later, they’re still in Palma clutching handwritten boarding passes with no seat numbers and no departure time.
It’s all they have to cling to – their only hope of getting home.
And they’re the lucky ones. Jim Falconer from Glasgow is still waiting for one of these now valuable bits of paper – for a seat on any flight to anywhere. That’s how desperate it’s got.
“There’s just not enough information,” Jim says. “Yesterday evening a Thomas Cook rep told us ‘everything is fine, everything is fine’. Now we just feel in a wilderness.
“The German service and all the subsidiaries still seem to be flying but once again it’s our government who are too soft.
“People are too frightened to book with Thomas Cook due to our government’s inadequacy keeping us in or getting us out of Europe.
“Indirectly I feel it’s the government’s fault.
“I’m very non-political but it’s down to the utter chaos of Brexit.”
Passengers originally destined for Newcastle and Manchester are still waiting to hear if they’ve got seats on the now one flight bound for the north west of England.
After hours of frustration a crowd of people gathers around staff from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
In anticipation there may be some sort of announcement, people begin to record the scene on their phones.
Then, a whoop of joy from one woman who discovers her family’s names are on the flight list.
She begins to run towards check-in, pushing her two children on a luggage trolley.
Others watch on – and wait.
“I’ve just had my seven-year-old son on the phone in tears because he thinks I’m not coming home,” says one woman.
She’s been in Majorca with a group of friends to celebrate her 50th birthday.
“It’s completely ruined the trip”, she tells me.
A long queue now winds its way through the terminal in Palma.
People destined for Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow are waiting to hear if they have a seat on a flight that may depart at midnight.
Many have been here since 7am.
Children and people in need of assistance are being prioritised.
For everyone else, there’s a queue to join. Unclear what, if anything, may be at the end of it.
This is the first day of a mammoth rescue effort by the CAA.
A task not unfamiliar to them after Monarch Airlines collapsed in 2017, but the scale is unprecedented.
The CAA now has a little less than two weeks to repatriate more than 150,000 British tourists – around the equivalent to the population of Oxford or Huddersfield.
The demise of Thomas Cook may have been hard to believe, but the level of disruption should have been expected.
- Watch the half-hour special Thomas Cook: The Last Flight on the demise of the travel firm at 8.30pm on Sky News.