Holiday fury of XL victims

DOZENS of travel agents from across Suffolk were today trying to help stranded holidaymakers after the UK's third largest tour operator went into administration.

DOZENS of travel agents from across Suffolk were today trying to help stranded holidaymakers after the UK's third largest tour operator went into administration.

XL Leisure Group declared bankruptcy early this morning having failed to secure a rescue package amid deep financial difficulties.

The group, which had still been taking holiday bookings until recently, said all its flights had been cancelled and its fleet of aircraft grounded, with company bosses blaming rising fuel costs and the credit crunch.

Scores of disappointed XL customers queued at Gatwick, the firm's main airport, this morning, one of the busiest days of the week for holiday flights.

Meanwhile, tour operators in Suffolk and across the country were inundated with calls from disappointed holidaymakers.

Bridget Keevil, owner of Travel Stop, which has offices in Claydon and Elmswell, said up to 40 of her customers had been affected by XL's collapse.

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She said she heard the news at 6am and immediately made her way into work.

She said: “It's something you never want to hear, but when it does you have to do your best to sort your customers out.

“I have about 20 customers on holiday at the moment who are affected and about the same number who were due to fly with XL.”

She said those currently on holiday would be brought home at no cost with another airline, while those waiting to go would receive refunds through the Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (ATOL) scheme.

However, she admitted: “There will be disappointment for a huge amount of people.”

Miriam Harrup, spokeswoman for the East of England Co-operative Society and its Travelcare branches in Felixstowe and Ipswich, said the company was still waiting for information and advised people to use the helplines.

She said: “We will do everything we can to support our customers who have booked through our travel agencies and we will keep them informed as soon as we have information for them.”

Estimates suggest tens of thousands of holidaymakers nationally will be affected.

XL customers faced a race to get tickets on alternative flights if they wanted to go ahead with their holidays, although some just turned round and headed home.

Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly said everything possible was being done to get stranded holidaymakers home.

She said in a statement: “I have been holding discussions with my officials about this situation and both they, and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), have been monitoring developments and putting rescue plans into action.

“The CAA have a wealth of experience in dealing with these sorts of situations and are putting systems in place to get people home, while the government stands ready to provide the CAA with operational assistance should they need it.

“The industry has reacted well to this collapse of a major tour company and are assisting the CAA with the recovery plans to ensure that affected passengers are repatriated as soon as possible.”

In a statement on its website, the XL group said it had been hit by volatile fuel prices and the credit crunch.

Have you been affected by the collapse of XL? Call The Evening Star newsdesk on 01473 324788 or e-mail starnews@eveningstar.co.uk

What to do now:

PASSENGERS yet to travel should make alternative arrangements, while those already on holiday will be brought home on flights arranged by the Civil Aviation Authority.

A statement from XL said those who booked direct with an XL Group company were urged to contact Air Travel Organisers' Licensing immediately.

An emergency helpline - +44 289 185 6547 - has been set up for customers.

Holidaymakers abroad are advised to dial +44 208 242 4783, while those in the UK should call 0800 068 8991.

It estimated there are 50,000 customers abroad who had booked through an XL tour operator, 10,000 on holiday with XL Airways, and 25,000 with other tour operators who shared the XL flights.

A further 200,000 customers had advance bookings with the XL tour operators, it said.

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