Travel Giant Thomas Cook Collapses, Stranding 600,000 People

Subsidiary Condor Airlines continues normal operations, seeks loan from German government

By Matt Neistei

Published September 23, 2019

Read Time: 3 mins


Hundreds of thousands of travelers were left stranded around the world on Monday as venerable British tour company Thomas Cook collapsed on Sunday night and immediately ceased operations, although subsidiary Condor Airlines continued to operate normally for the time being.

Thomas Cook, which traced its roots back to the 1840s as a rail transport service in England, had been enduring financial troubles while watching its debt balloon. Office closures and staff reductions earlier this year were not enough to right the business.

The company had about 21,000 employees worldwide, operating dozens of tour services, hotels and airlines across Africa, Asia and Europe. Condor serves the Pittsburgh market with seasonal nonstop flights to Frankfurt, Germany.

Despite its parent company’s shutdown, Condor is still operating all worldwide flights as scheduled.

“I assure you that we will do everything in our power to ensure that our fleet continues to bring our guests reliably to their holiday destinations all over the world and back home as usual,” said chairman Ralf Teckentrup.

Condor’s twice-weekly flights to Pittsburgh, which began in 2017, carried more than 17,000 passengers at PIT last year and more than 12,000 through the end of August this year. The PIT flight ended for the season on Sept. 16 and is scheduled to resume next summer.

Those numbers are encouraging for the airline, according to Carsten Sasse, Condor’s Head of Sales, International Markets, who visited Pittsburgh earlier this year.

“We want to see the success of the route. We are happy to be here for the third year,” he told Blue Sky in July. “But we think in the future we really should increase service. If we bring all the pieces in the right way together – our fleet management, the local stakeholders – we are sure we can increase operations in the future.”

Condor, an airline owned by Thomas Cook, serves the Pittsburgh market with seasonal nonstop flights to Frankfurt, Germany. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

The long-term impact on Condor was not immediately clear. The airline is seeking a bridge loan from the German government, a request supported by the German state of Hesse, where it is headquartered.

About 240,000 of the airline’s customers are currently abroad, Condor said, and ticket sales are continuing as normal. However, customers are advised to purchase travel cancellation insurance when they book.

In a statement, Thomas Cook said negotiations with stakeholders and financiers in recent days had not been successful and the board concluded that immediate liquidation was the only recourse.

“This marks a deeply sad day for the company which pioneered package holidays and made travel possible for millions of people around the world,” CEO Peter Fankhauser said in the statement.

This spring, Thomas Cook rejected a bid from Lufthansa to purchase Condor. A spokesman for Lufthansa declined to comment on Thomas Cook’s bankruptcy, according to Bloomberg.

Thomas Cook said it had about 600,000 customers on vacation this past weekend. The United Kingdom’s secretary of state for transport, Grant Shapps, said the government is doing everything it can to help its 150,000 citizens left stranded.

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