Thomas Cook Repatriation Mission Enters Final Days

We are nearing two weeks since Operation Matterhorn began: The effort to repatriate as many as 150,000 stranded Brits after Thomas Cook announced bankruptcy on September 23rd. The 150,000 were covered under the ATOL Protection scheme administered by the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

A Malaysia Airlines A380 was used to repatriate holidaymakers. Photo:
Aero Icarus via Flickr

“Twelve hour shifts, no weekends, doing something you’ve never done before” – Dame Deirdre Hutton, Chair of UK’s CAA

According to the Independent, Dame Deirdre Hutton has been overseeing the “UK’s biggest-ever airlift” from a fifth-floor open-plan office in London’s Docklands. In fact, she heads up a team of as many as 500 people at CAA Headquarters as well as the flight-planning operation in Stansted. Furthermore, the operation extends to airports across the UK and the world.

Aircraft shortage

Apparently finding available aircraft was particularly difficult for this operation. This is according to Andy Cohen – normally the head of ATOL, but co-ordinating the repatriation. One of the major reasons for this difficulty was the worldwide grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX:

“The issues with the 737 MAX meant that many of the aircraft we would like to get in this particular instance were not available to us. So we had to use aircraft from smaller carriers, which have less resilience. The number one criterion is safety. And secondly, that they were willing to partner with us, in secrecy, so we could have planes on demand when required.”

In fact, a 486 seat Malaysia Airlines Airbus A380 was contracted to operate two flights a day to the Spanish Balearic island of Mallorca to bring back stranded holidaymakers. According to FlightRadar24, the A380 with registration 9M-MNF arrived back in Kuala Lumpur from Manchester a few days ago.

Operation Hi Fly
The two flights Hi Fly was contracted for Operation Matterhorn. Photo: GC Maps

A job well done

According to Travel Daily News, here are some statistics arising from the operation:

  • Over 130 aircraft have been involved as part of the Matterhorn fleet
  • On October 2nd alone, 42 flights operated to bring back around 6,500 passengers
  •  Over 127,000 were flown back to the UK in the first ten days of the operation
  • Approximately 94% of travelers have flown back on the original days of their canceled Thomas Cook flight

“The CAA continues to work around the clock to deliver our two-week flying programme to bring more than 150,000 people back to the UK. At the same time, we are focussed on refunding the 360,000 ATOL protected future bookings as quickly as possible.” -Richard Moriarty, Chief Executive at the UK Civil Aviation Authority

Thomas Cook Repatriation Mission Enters Final Days
Thomas Cook has placed its airline divisions on the market. Photo: Thomas Cook


In conclusion, The Independent reports that Operation Matterhorn is expected to cost £100m. Of this sum, £60m will be covered by the ATOL fund. However, the remainder will be funded by the government and UK taxpayers.

“For the avoidance of doubt, we never, ever want to do this again,” says Dame Deirdre. Airline logistics on such a large scale require an incredible amount of planning and effort. This is evidenced by the 12-hour shifts required by Matterhorn staff members.

It’s even more impressive that 94% of travelers flew back on the original days of their canceled Thomas Cook flights. The entire Operation Matterhorn team should be commended for their tireless efforts in bringing stranded passengers home.