One month after the collapse of Thomas Cook, hundreds of thousands of grounded travellers face waiting another six weeks for refunds for their cancelled holidays.
Around 800,000 people who had packages booked with the failed travel giant are due refunds under the Atol scheme, administered by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
The CAA has contracted three “expert refund management companies” to handle the process.
It had aimed to refund holidaymakers who had paid by direct debit by 14 October. The refunds website still says: “We began the process to refund these payments on Monday 30 September and expect them to be received within 14 days of this date.”
But The Independent has learnt that while most of these customers have had the money returned, there are still some outstanding cases.
Fewer than 200,000 of the disappointed holidaymakers will get refunds by this method. The remainder, who paid with cash, cheque, credit card or debit card, were unable to apply for refunds until 7 October – two weeks after Thomas Cook’s collapse – and were told that refunds could take up to 60 days.
The refunds process for people who applied as early as they could should therefore finish by early December, but The Independent understands that this target may not be reached. Some Thomas Cook customers who paid thousands of pounds may potentially have to wait until 2020 to get their money back, depending on when they applied for refunds.
The CAA says: “For bookings made by payment methods other than direct debit, directly with travel agents or where flights are with another airline, the refund process will take longer owing to the numerous and complex data processing systems Thomas Cook employed across Europe.”
Following the collapse of Monarch Airlines in 2017, which involved a much smaller number of refunds, one in five customers had to wait over three months to get their cash back.
Fraud has also been a problem for the CAA, with around 15 per cent of the earliest online applications for refunds believed to be fraudulent. The organisation said: ‘Where we see evidence of fraud, we will seek to prosecute any individuals or organisations involved.”
In addition, some scam websites have been trying to extract fees or bank details from Thomas Cook customers seeking refunds. Thomascook.caa.co.uk/refunds is the only official site.
The total bill for refunds is expected to be £420m. The cost will be met by the Air Travel Trust fund, which is made up of Atol contributions, and the CAA’s insurers. The CAA is not yet able to say how the bill will be split.
More details have emerged of the scale of Operation Matterhorn. This was the repatriation programme that brought back Thomas Cook customers who were abroad at the time of the collapse.
The operation cost £100m, of which around £60m is expected to be met by the Atol fund. The remainder, for passengers with no Atol cover, will be borne by taxpayers.
The CAA flew 141,197 people back, at an average cost per person of £704. In the Monarch repatriation, the cost per person was £623. But Thomas Cook’s schedule included long-haul destinations in the US and Caribbean.