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Travelers Stranded Around The World After Thomas Cook Travel Agency Collapses

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Hundreds of thousands of European vacationers are stranded at their holiday destinations. This follows the collapse of the U.K.'s largest and oldest travel company, Thomas Cook. It started over 170 years ago, just as train travel was taking off, and had grown to include everything from hotels to its very own airline. Last night, the company announced that it was bankrupt and shuttering the business.

Nine thousand British employees are now out of work. One of them, pilot David Crichton. He spoke with us earlier today from Manchester. We asked him how he started his day, given the difficult news that his job has been terminated.

DAVID CRICHTON: Yeah. I don't think Sunday actually ended because I don't think I got any sleep last night. So the gradual realization that the last-minute talks weren't going to come to fruition and the company was going to fall sort of around midnight last night, that was the reality. Basically, the aeroplanes get parked up. Restraining orders are put on the airplanes, actually taped to the side of the airplane.

And then about 1:00 a.m., we had an email from the company saying that that was its - operations are no longer going to continue. And then you spend the rest of the night thinking, how am I going to pay the bills?

CORNISH: So just so I'm clear, did you witness the taping of this piece of paper to the side of the plane? Kind of where were you when this was going down?

CRICHTON: I was just at home. But we have a Thomas Cook staff Facebook page, and so people who were at work last night were put putting sort of live videos on as it was all happening.

CORNISH: What else was on that Facebook page? I mean, were people grieving, were they stunned?

CRICHTON: Oh, yeah. Everyone is still completely distraught. Especially as a pilot, life is very difficult to get a job equivalent of what I do now. Just because the way the system works and seniority, I can't get an equivalent position. So I would probably, no doubt, get another job as a pilot. But I'll have to start at the bottom as a junior pilot again and work my way up for tens of years to get back to the position I am today, which is not great.

But there are other people who, you know, both people - the wife and husband work for the company. So they've lost two incomes in a household. They have children. And, you know, that's just devastating for people, absolutely devastating.

CORNISH: So all that grief what was coming out in those messages.

CRICHTON: Yeah. You know, and it's not stopped. People just don't know what to do. Obviously all our company emails got shut down this afternoon. So there's been no contact. This is what you need to do. Nobody's really been in this situation before. We're not going to get paid this month. We're due to be paid in five days' time. So we've lost another month's salary that we're all expecting.

And when you hear the stories of the government are paying tenfold the amount that it was to save the company, to repatriate everyone. And then on top of all of that, there's two hedge funds shorting against the company. They got paid out $250 million today. And that's just - nobody can really accept that.

CORNISH: David Crichton, what are your next steps?

CRICHTON: Just - I just have to try and get another job. It is terrible, but there are going to be jobs out there. I need to pick myself up, dust my CV off, make myself a sellable asset.

CORNISH: You had been a proud Thomas Cook pilot for a long time. What's it been like working for a legacy company like this one?

CRICHTON: It's been fantastic. It's - you know, they really look after you. It's an interesting company that we're a big company but we're not too big that you actually get to know everybody. It's not like you go to work and you don't know anyone. There is this Thomas Cook family, and certainly what we're all feeling at the minute, we're all sadly feeling the pain together. But I think we'll all stick together and pick ourselves up.

CORNISH: David Crichton is a former pilot with Thomas Cook. He spoke to us from Manchester, England. Thank you so much for your time.

CRICHTON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.