Great airlift begins as authorities try to get 85000 stranded tourists back home.

The collapse of XL Leisure Group, Britain’s third-biggest holiday company, has hit more than 300,000 customers

Passengers stranded by the collapse of XL Leisure Group are seen at Larnaca airport, Cyprus, Friday, Sept. 12, 2008. Thousands of British travelers are stranded as the country's third-largest tour operator has collapsed under pressure from high fuel prices and a sagging economy. XL Leisure Group PLC went into administration overnight, saying it had been unable to secure more funding. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Passengers stranded by the collapse of XL Leisure Group are seen at Larnaca airport, Cyprus.

On Thursday night XL Airways flight JN1121 pushed back from the terminal at Sanford International, the Orlando airport that is the gateway to Florida for thousands of British holidaymakers every year.

For the 266 passengers on board it was the end of all inclusive holidays– two weeks spent basking on the beach or squealing with delight on the rides at Disneyland.

A massive airlift was under way to bring some of the 85,000 tourists who were caught out by the shut-down of Britain’s third largest tour operator. Those who opted for Tour Operators like Directline Holidays were feeling safe as their cheap holidays as promised to them were cheap indeed as ever. Many holidaymakers came to know about the truth behind true discount holidays.

This morning, passengers flew into Gatwick Airport on a specially-chartered Monarch Airlines flight from Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt, and spoke of their joy at getting home. Alison Hill, 37, said she was left in tears as she worried she would not be able to find a flight back to the UK.

Ms Hill, from Redditch, Worcestershire, who spent 10 days in the resort with her two-year-old son, Samuel, said she found out that XL had gone into administration as she lay in bed in her hotel room watching the news.

She said: “No one actually told me, I had to find it out for myself. I spent the whole day in tears in reception with a very unhappy two-year-old, wondering if I was ever going to get home. A woman staying in the same hotel as me went to the airport and she found out from Thomson about this flight.

“We were meant to leave at 11pm last night and ended up getting this flight at 3.30am this morning, so you could say we were one of the lucky ones. There was another flight that was meant to go to Luton yesterday afternoon before ours, and they are still there.”

Ms Hill, a lawyer, added: “We had a fantastic holiday but the last day was ruined, which left a bitter taste in the mouth. It was all the worse as it was just the two of us, I thought I was going to be stranded in a foreign country with a two-year-old.”

Friends Kirsty Grant and Kelly Thompson, who were also on the Monarch flight, said they spent the last day of their holiday in a “mad panic.” Ms Grant, 20, said: “My mum sent me a text yesterday morning telling me I might have trouble getting home. We immediately went to find our rep but she couldn’t tell us anything; no one could tell us anything.

“We were all in a mad panic, as none of us had enough money to pay for extra accommodation if we had to stay longer. We went to the airport last night and waited there and then we were told about this flight.”

The women, both nursery nurses from Chessington, Surrey, said they were relieved to be home as they believed there were many other XL passengers still left in Sharm El Sheikh. Ms Thompson, 25, added: “It’s horrible thinking you’re stranded in a foreign country.”

The airlift operation is being supervised by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) but involves help from dozens of airlines and travel companies. XL Leisure Group went into administration in the early hours of Friday morning with debts of £143 million.

The CCA chartered seven flights from foreign destinations including Orlando, Florida; Dalaman, Turkey; and Malaga, Parma and Alicante, Spain. Other passengers travelled home on scheduled flights.

The collapse of XL has left tens of thousands of people stranded throughout Europe, the United States, the Caribbean and Africa. A further 200,000 planned holidays have been wrecked and 1,700 staff have lost their jobs.

There are growing fears the high price of fuel and the credit crunch will force dozens of other travel firms into liquidation. Some operators say the economic outlook is even worse than the aftermath of 9/11 in 2001.

Of the 85,000 stranded tourists, some 75,000 are protected by the industry’s Air Travel Organisers’ Licence (Atol) agreement and will be airlifted home free of charge.

However, another 10,000 will have to make their own arrangements – and at their own cost – because they are not covered under the rules of the agreement.

An Atol spokesman said many passengers were expected to be returning to the UK, both on specially chartered flights and on already scheduled flights that have spare seats on board.

British holidaymaker David Halligan landed at Manchester Airport this morning having spent £880 on new flights after he and his family were stranded in Florida. The 50-year-old engineer from Bradford spent £2,000 on a two-week XL villa holiday in the “sunshine state” for his family of four.

Mr Halligan found out about the firm’s collapse from friends in the UK. “We were rung early morning by friends saying XL had gone under so we proceeded to get ourselves sorted out. We got on the internet. We were lucky to be in a villa with internet access.”

He said he used contacts and took advantage of a friend’s frequent flyer status to get cheaper-than-normal Virgin flights.

Their XL flight was from Orlando Sanford International Airport but they had to travel 34 miles to Orlando International Airport to pick up their Virgin Atlantic flight.

Virgin Atlantic has said XL passengers who find themselves stuck at airports in Florida and the Caribbean will be offered special one-way fares to fly home until the end of September.

Peter Long, the chief executive of Thomson and First Choice owner TUI Travel, said the two firms would also joining the effort to help stranded passengers.

Phil Wyatt, chief executive of XL Leisure Group, described arranging flights to accommodate those affected as “the most challenging airlift that anyone has undertaken”.

In an emotional statement, Mr Wyatt said he was “devastated” at the company’s collapse and apologised to his customers and employees.

Speaking at a press conference at the Hilton Hotel at Gatwick Airport, XL’s chief executive said: “Ultimately I blame myself, I’m the CEO, I take legal responsibility for it.”

But he added that the withdrawal of support from lenders had left them with no option than to call in administrators.

Mr Wyatt said: “We have made every effort to refinance the principal debt of the group but, despite significant interest, the group was unsuccessful.

More recently, record oil prices and a worsening economic environment has meant our economic requirements have increased and our efforts have been overwhelmed.”

He expressed his “gratitude” to XL’s 1,700 staff, who will now face an uncertain future.

The collapse of XL Leisure Group prompted a prediction by Willie Walsh, British Airways chief executive, that another 30 airlines would go out of business within the next four months.

Administrators now have an uphill battle to save the profitable part of the firm. Stuart Mackellar, a partner at Kroll appointed as joint administrator, said: “We are not thinking about liquidation at the moment. We are thinking about a rescue plan for the survival of parts of the business.”

XL’s administrators said most people who booked holidays with the troubled tour operator should be eligible for a refund.

Those who paid by credit card or used a tour operator affiliated to the Atol scheme should get their money back.

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10 Useful Secrets the Major Airlines Don’t Want You to Know!

By Laura Milligan

Ironically, traveling by air is getting more and more inconvenient as overbooked flights, lost luggage, and pricey ticket sales become more common. Unfortunately, booking a flight is sometimes just plain necessary, a fact that airlines know all too well, allowing them to continue maximizing profits while we passengers often get stuck on the ground.

The following is a list of useful secrets that will help you find cheaper, better, more convenient ways to fly. Bon voyage!

  1. Rule 240: Understanding your rights according to Rule 240 is vital. This article from Aviation.com explains the ins and outs of Rule 240, which states “that if an airline [can’t] get you to your destination on time, it [is] required to put you on a competitor’s flight if it would get you there faster than your original airline’s next flight.” Some airlines, including Delta, “no longer make any mention of transporting passengers on other airlines in the event of a flight disruption,” so it’s in every passenger’s best interest to speak up.
  2. You can get better deals and schedules without buying directly from the airline. Sure, we all know about discount travel sites like Expedia.com and Orbitz, but matching a good deal with an ideal schedule and direct flight is sometimes tricky. Airlines often rely on travelers who can’t afford to waste time during long layovers and would rather shell out extra cash to keep them on schedule. There are alternatives, however. This article, from the Microsoft Small Business Center, suggests contacting a travel agent or even checking your newspaper for special deals. Agents “can have affiliate agreements with a large travel company that negotiates lower rates on their behalf,” and “often, tour operators will advertise ridiculously low fares and package deals in the Sunday travel section.”
  3. First class seats are available at coach prices. You may need to ask your travel agent to help you out with this tip, but it’s definitely worth it. According to San Diego’s 10News.com, coach tickets can be booked under codes like YUPP, QUPP, or Z, which award ticketholders automatic upgrades to first class. How does it work? According to Rick Seaney, president of FareCompare, “a lot of times the YUPPs are matching some sort of low-cost carrier in a particular market.” According to the article, in 2006, a “round trip flight from Dallas to St. Louis on American Airlines, the YUPP fare is $278 — that’s nearly $1,500 cheaper than a regular seat in first class and more than a $1,000 less than the most expensive seat in coach.”
  4. Prague Short Breaks.  Breaking your journey for day or two in a place which is famous for many reasons is also one of the cleverest things to do. If you are passing by Europe than we’ll recommend you to break your journey for day or two to save little money on your airline ticket. We’ll recommend you city breaks in Prague. One of the most famous destination of Europe which is having connecting flights to almost every corner of the globe, Prague City Breaks is an ideal destination for both breaking your journey and saving huge amount on your long direct flights.
  5. Take advantage of lesser-known airlines. The European and Asian travel markets are noticing a boom in the number of smaller, cheaper airlines. Ryanair and Easyjet are popular airlines that are just as safe and probably more efficient than their larger competitors. Book flights on Jetstar or Malaysia Airlines for Asian travel. You won’t be able to fly direct from the U.S. on some of these airlines, but once you’re abroad, they’re definitely the way to travel.
  6. Fly foreign. Air France hosts its on U.S. site, which features extremely reasonable prices for tickets from various cities in the United States. You’ll probably find cheaper fares by checking with your destination’s airlines rather than American ones. Just be sure you calculate the exchange rate, however, to avoid paying more than you had intended.
  7. Re-work your travel schedule. If you plan on flying to several different cities, either within the U.S. or abroad, arrange your travel schedule so that you’re always flying into the cheapest cities. Wendy Perrin suggests looking “into flying via Dublin instead of London” if you’re going to Europe. “Aer Lingus has cheap flights, and low-fare carriers fly from Dublin to many European cities.
  8. Make sure you understand refund policies. Airlines can be reluctant when it comes to passing out ticket refunds, so make sure you’re familiar with their policy before getting duped. The article “Airlines’ policies on refunds and changes” from the New York Times connects you to the refund policies of all major U.S. airlines, including American, Delta, Southwest, and United. The article is dated 2001, but the links should take you to the most updated information.
  9. Buy consolidated. To find cheap fares even at the last minute, buy your tickets from a consolidator. wikiHow publishes a thorough step-by-step guide with tips on buying from a consolidator, including planning on departing from larger cities and finding great international ticket deals.
  10. Schedule your departure from a larger city to avoid higher prices. If you leave near a city like Dallas, Atlanta, Boston, or Los Angeles, consider driving to those hub airports instead of departing from the regional airports in your hometown. You can save hundreds of dollars and will avoid the hassle of having to connect (or miss) your next flight. Read the list of U.S. hub airports here.

Now that you’ve got the inside information on these top airline secrets, you’ve got a better chance of saving lots of cash, flying in more comfortable seats, and avoiding some of the inconveniences of traveling with major airlines. We hope you enjoy your trip!

Adios Paper Ticket!!!!

Come 1st June and paper tickets will gone forever! Airlines all over the world will start issuing E-Tickets only after midnight of 31st May 2008. Well, there is no need to look confused or panic when your travel agent will hand over a piece of printed paper with traveling dates etc printed on it. It is your ticket indeed from right now.

Lost it???????? No problems, it can’t be lost! You can print it yourself even on the airport just before your departure. Change your seating preferences, Order for meal of your choice and print your boarding pass and check-in from your bedroom! Yes, these are the few attractions of E-Ticketing. As for my fellow Travel Agents it is win win situation all the way. Let me show you some figures which can give you an overview of the tremendous cost cut and that will happen to travel agencies all over the world.

Electronic Ticketing benefits versus Paper Tickets – FOR Travel Agencies
Paper Ticket (PT)
Electronic Ticket (ET)

PT – Need for secure premises and provision of a safe, meeting minimum standards.
ET – Could set up as an Electronic Ticket only travel agency thereby removing the minimum requirement for a safe to store paper tickets and thus making accreditation easier.
PT – Deliver paper tickets on time to clients.
ET – Tickets can be issued up to departure time. No need to worry about providing the paper ticket, although there remains a need to provide mandatory notices to the passenger by electronic or other means.
PT – Need for knowledgeable staff to set up Prepaid Ticket Advices and check on ticket process status.
ET – No need to waste valuable time setting up Prepaid Ticket Advices as the tickets can be issued directly.
PT – Couriers or messengers may be needed to deliver tickets to customers thereby incurring additional costs.
ET – Not required any more.
PT – Changes after departure require a close relationship with the airline and the passenger who then must spend time contacting a ticket office to have a ticket changed.
ET – As the coupons are held electronically, the travel agent can perform the changes, exchange or reissue the ticket and make additional collections without requiring the passenger to waste valuable time at an airline’s office, resulting in added value services.
PT – Need for a storage facility for paper agent coupons.
ET – If audit coupons are required they may be stored electronically.
PT – Hardware, such as printers (ATB, OPTAT), needs to be maintained.
ET – Only a plain paper printer is required to print the itinerary/receipt and ticket notices.
PT – Ensure adequate stock in the office.
ET – Not required.
PT – Paper tickets can jam in the printer.
ET – Tickets are issued electronically.
PT – Customer may need to visit the travel agency for changes to their tickets
ET – Customer service is enhanced, productivity is increased and flexibility is added as all transactions can be performed without the customer needing to be present.