Top of the Month: The CAA's handling of Thomas Cook's collapse has been first class

The Civil Aviation Authority's handling of the Thomas Cook collapse has earned plaudits from those in the know, specifically travel PR professionals, and there's good reason.

Passengers disembark a Thomas Cook plane in Manchester after the travel operator went bankrupt. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Passengers disembark a Thomas Cook plane in Manchester after the travel operator went bankrupt. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The scale of this task can not be understated. More than 150,000 people from across the world – from Cuba and Mexico through to Tunisia and Turkey – needed to be flown home after all Thomas Cook airlines and operations had ground to a halt. This was the largest British repatriation effort since the Second World War. 

In addition, more than a million Thomas Cook customers have bookings of holidays, weddings, and other events that will need either refunding and reorganising.

There are thousands of businesses impacted by Thomas Cook’s collapse, including hotels, tour operators, tourism boards, restaurants, bars and other seasonal operators that relied on Thomas Cook’s custom.

But perhaps the most affected groups are Thomas Cook’s employees, the 22,000 who instantly lost their jobs and some of whom, including their UK comms team, worked above and beyond the call of duty, knowing full well they had no jobs.

This gargantuan, multifaceted and complex operation – codenamed Operation Matterhorn – was led by the CAA and the government.

They assembled a crisis operational hub, led by director of comms Richard Stephenson, and strengthened it with the addition of consultants with industry knowledge across airlines, hotels, tourism, Government and crisis comms. Markettiers helped the CAA with broadcast facilities and support, allowing the CAA to deliver nearly 100 interviews in the first two days.

The CAA deployed a multi-phased communications plan. This began minutes after the Thomas Cook announcement, with the CAA issuing a press release and a live broadcast supported by a bespoke website and social media campaign to potential Thomas Cook customers. 

The aim was to target all customers within an hour across multiple channels and also at airports and through other impacted operators. 

All comms channels directed those affected to a ‘single-source of truth’ website, which in the first four days reached 10 million hits.

The operation also had to reach Thomas Cook staff who were immediately made redundant.

The two-week flying programme phase will be followed by support to customers in what is the biggest refund programme the ATOL scheme has ever managed, with 360,000 refunds to more than 800,000 people.

If there is any positive news to come from the collapse of the world’s oldest travel operator, it is surely the CAA’s handling of this crisis and the way that staff at the CAA and Thomas Cook have risen to the occasion during incredibly testing times. 

Read next: How the CAA guided stakeholders through Thomas Cook Turbulence

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