TUI managing director Andrew Flintham paid tribute to Thomas Cook at a special media event on Wednesday evening, describing the failed company as the inventor of the travel industry.
Flintham, who actually nearly left TUI to join Thomas Cook as UK & Ireland managing director last year, said this was ‘an incredibly sad time’.
He said the two companies had a ‘professional rivalry’, but that they were ‘inextricably entwined’. Flintham, who, instead of joining Thomas Cook as planned last year was offered the same job back at TUI, pointed out that many of his colleagues had family working for Thomas Cook.
“They are our colleagues and also our friends,” he added. “This is a pivotal moment in the industry and a sad one.”
His colleague, commercial director Richard Sofer, has been working closely with the CAA since Thomas Cook’s collapse in the early hours of Sunday morning, helping to repatriate customers who would otherwise have been stranded abroad.
Sofer said TUI was also helping to bring home Thomas Cook overseas staff, who have not, as yet, been included in the CAA’s repatriation effort, apparently because they’re not covered by Thomas Cook’s ATOL.
“We’re bringing crew home where we can help, where we have empty seats,” said Sofer. Other airlines have also stepped in to help, including Virgin Atlantic.
Sofer praised the CAA’s rescue effort, saying it was ‘doing a fantastic job’ bringing home holidaymakers.
“There are a lot of people [at the CAA] working very hard,” he added. “This is more complex than the Monarch repatriation.”
Asked whether the government should have stepped in to rescue non-ATOL holders, who’d booked flight-only deals with no financial protection, Sofer said: “I think they are doing the right thing, making sure customers are brought home.”