Thomas Cook was the company that pioneered the package holiday, making trips abroad affordable and accessible to ordinary people. Founded in 1841, the company collapsed in 2019 after 178 years of business. The company employed 21,000 people, including 9,000 in the UK, and operated in 16 countries.
Short-term pressures, such as political unrest in Turkey (one of its key destinations), played an important part in bringing the company down but Thomas Cook was in debt following a series of mergers a decade earlier.
By 2019 the company was in serious trouble and Fosun International, the largest shareholder, attempted a rescue deal that fell through in the Autumn of 2019. Condor, an airline owned by the group, was rescued by a bailout from the German government.
Both PwC, who audited the company from 2007 to 2016, and EY – who were the auditors from 2017 – were heavily criticised for signing off the accounts of the troubled company throughout those years. EY was placed under investigation by the Financial Reporting Council in October 2019.
Olivia Meredith was working as cabin crew at Thomas Cook when the company collapsed in 2019.
I started working at Thomas Cook six years ago when I was 23. I was wanting to be cabin crew for a long time, so I applied for the job and started March 2016. We had a really good training group going into it too.
I loved working there. Looking back, the pattern of working meant I was often tired and never knew what day of the week it was. But it was a good job. The first couple of years I worked short haul and then I moved on to long haul and saw a bit more of the world, like spending six days in Barbados and time in Goa – I loved it.
I knew there had been trouble with the company before because some of the older crew used to talk about it. June 2019, I remember doing some flights to Santorini and everyone was reading the newspaper and we were on the front page of the newspaper – it was saying that we were going to collapse. We were ignoring it and the older crew were like, “Oh, this happened before.” Then it all basically happened… in front of our eyes very, very quickly.
On the Friday I had a Cuba trip, flying back on Monday. When we got to Cuba, we only had limited WiFi in the lobby of the hotel. When some of the guys logged on to the WiFi, they said something about it being in the news that we might not make it through the weekend when the stock market opened up again on Monday. When I logged on there was a lot of messages from people I'd trained with (we had a group chat) about how we should be worried. The people I was with were like “just try to be positive.”
The next day, it was still like the same thing. There's messages going around, just speculating, and then we went to another place in Cuba. So again, we had quite a while without Wi Fi because we had to get a coach to the airport and then get a little plane to go to another part of Cuba and back to the hotel there. Then one of the girls who was on a cabin managers group chat said it was just going crazy. It was quite worrying. I remember getting changed on the Sunday evening back into my uniform, and I was doing my makeup, but I was crying on the phone to my Mum, saying “I'm really worried what's going to happen?” And she was saying, “Oh, it doesn't look great.”
On the flight back on Monday, one of the cabin managers said to the captain, “don't tell us if we collapse while we're in the air.” And he was like, “well, it'd be a bit hard not to say anything.” And then I remember watching a film and crying - it was just a weird atmosphere. The passengers were all really nice to us on that flight. They obviously knew about what was happening.
When we came into London, I see all of our [Thomas Cook] aircraft on stand. So, they're not at the gate – they’re all lined up next to each other. We always had a gate because we didn't have that many aircraft. The cabin manager turned on her phone as we were landing and it froze up from the notifications coming – she looked at me and said “we’ve collapsed.” I felt almost relief that I knew, because the worry had been so bad. But it was still horrible. The cabin manager did the usual announcements, but you could hear she was teary in her voice. The bus drivers that came to pick us up and the despatchers said they were really sorry about it all, it was just really sad.
We were obviously in the dark about it and then it just all happened so quickly over that one weekend.
I'm quite lucky because I'm quite young and I've done quite a few jobs before. So, I think I found it quite easy. I started a new job the next week in Boots in the airport. I just did that for two weeks, and then I went into an office job. I’m training as a dental nurse now. There are still people I know who don’t have a job. If I could have Thomas Cook back again I would go back straightaway.
We had a reunion quite soon after it happened, at the end of October. We all had a get together in Brighton and it was really, really nice. I know a lot of the people, you probably saw on the news, did a march to Parliament, protesting, but I didn't go to that because I was really heartbroken about it. I couldn't even talk about it for ages.
And then obviously COVID happened. I had found another aviation job - I was furloughed from that and then I lost my job. I think Thomas Cook wouldn't have survived - it would have been like Flybe and would have gone quite quickly, I think. So maybe it was a blessing in disguise that it happened sooner rather than later.
It definitely could have been handled better. Like the fact that we were just told just like that. The weekend it happened when we were getting on the aircraft to go back from Cuba, there was a crew from Manchester getting off the aircraft going to Cuba and we said to them, “if it happens, like good luck,” because obviously we didn't know how they were going to get home. And there were some crew that were stuck in random places.
They definitely should have made redundancies, rather than just let it collapse. I don't really know the ins and outs of it, but if they made redundancies, then maybe they would have been able to save the company. It's just crazy how we weren't updated the whole time. It's nothing to do with our managers - they didn't know anything either. People had just been hired a couple of weeks earlier and left their jobs at big airlines to come and be base managers only to lose their jobs.
No matter what airline anyone goes to it will never be the same, and that’s because they loved working for the company.
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