Portsmouth family-of-10 'devastated' as Thomas Cook goes bust just before Corfu flight

Helen Stiller, bottom row second-left, with family members including her son Jack, top-left, who is eight, and her daughter Jessica, top-right, who is 10. Picture: Helen Stiller
Helen Stiller, bottom row second-left, with family members including her son Jack, top-left, who is eight, and her daughter Jessica, top-right, who is 10. Picture: Helen Stiller
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A family-of-10 just minutes away from Stansted Airport at 3am set for their trip to Greece with Thomas Cook were distraught when a news alert revealed all flights had been cancelled.

Mum-of-two Helen Stiller was due to jet off to Corfu with loved ones for a week at 6.20am but learned of the firm’s collapse at a service station near the airport. 

Thomas Cook in Cascades Shopping Centre in Portsmouth on September 23 as the company went bust leaving 9,000 UK employees without a job. The CAA is carrying out a huge repatriation operation to bring holidaymakers home. Picture: Hope Mckellar

Thomas Cook in Cascades Shopping Centre in Portsmouth on September 23 as the company went bust leaving 9,000 UK employees without a job. The CAA is carrying out a huge repatriation operation to bring holidaymakers home. Picture: Hope Mckellar

The 34-year-old left her Paulsgrove home with her husband and their two ‘excited’ children, aged eight and 10, at about 1.10am today.

But it was a 3am news report that dealt the family's holiday plans a fatal blow, as Thomas Cook announced the cancellation of all its services. 

‘We were absolutely devastated,’ said Helen, who works at Queen Alexandra Hospital. 

‘As an adult you can deal with it, but it’s the children it affects the most – they were looking forward to it all summer.

Thomas Cook in Palmerston Road, Southsea, Portsmouth, on September 23 as the company went bust leaving 9,000 UK employees without a job. The CAA is carrying out a huge repatriation operation to bring holidaymakers home. Picture: Richard Lemmer

Thomas Cook in Palmerston Road, Southsea, Portsmouth, on September 23 as the company went bust leaving 9,000 UK employees without a job. The CAA is carrying out a huge repatriation operation to bring holidaymakers home. Picture: Richard Lemmer

‘There’s not a lot you can say to make them understand.’

READ MORE: Live updates as Thomas Cook goes bust

The week-long trip had been planned to celebrate Helen’s father’s 70th birthday, with four other relatives also due to fly, including her sister. 

She was fully refunded by Villa Plus, the firm the trip was booked with, after being unable to replace her Thomas Cook flights at short notice.

Thomas Cook in Havant, on September 23 as the company went bust leaving 9,000 UK employees without a job. The CAA is carrying out a huge repatriation operation to bring holidaymakers home. Picture: Hope Mckellar

Thomas Cook in Havant, on September 23 as the company went bust leaving 9,000 UK employees without a job. The CAA is carrying out a huge repatriation operation to bring holidaymakers home. Picture: Hope Mckellar

‘We essentially drove up to Stansted, had a coffee and came home,’ Helen said. 

‘We’re now looking to try and re-book for the end of the week and go somewhere else.’ 

It is understood as many 21,000 jobs, including 9,000 in the UK, are at risk as a result of the tour operator’s collapse. 

The Civil Aviation Authority is now working on the largest repatriation in peacetime, with 150,000 British holidaymakers still overseas. 

Thomas Cook in High Street in Cosham, Portsmouth, on September 23 as the company went bust leaving 9,000 UK employees without a job. The CAA is carrying out a huge repatriation operation to bring holidaymakers home. Picture: Richard Lemmer

Thomas Cook in High Street in Cosham, Portsmouth, on September 23 as the company went bust leaving 9,000 UK employees without a job. The CAA is carrying out a huge repatriation operation to bring holidaymakers home. Picture: Richard Lemmer

Frustrated customers gather outside Thomas Cook store

WOULD-BE holidaymakers affected by Thomas Cook’s collapse have turned up outside the firm’s store in Havant today. 

READ MORE: Here's what you need to know if you've booked a holiday with Thomas Cook

The branch is one of 600 across the country now listed as permanently closed after talks to save the company broke down. 

Matthew Boorer, from Havant, booked a holiday to Turkey for him and his wife in November through First Choice – with flights through Thomas Cook – costing more than £1,000.

He also paid for extras including leg room and in-flight meals. 

A Thomas Cook passenger aircraft taxis after landing at Manchester Airport. Picture: Oli Scarff / AFP / Getty Images

A Thomas Cook passenger aircraft taxis after landing at Manchester Airport. Picture: Oli Scarff / AFP / Getty Images

‘It’s just a cheap holiday for me and my wife and now she doesn’t even know if it’s going to happen,' Matthew said. 

Another family, who asked not to be named, spent more than £3,000 on a holiday to the Canary Islands for 11 people. 

One man from the family said: ‘We don’t even know if we’re going to get our money back – it’s three-and-a-half grand – what do we do now?’

‘They should be in the shop to say we can sort it for you.’ 

Thomas Cook has also closed stores in Portsmouth, Gosport, Fareham and Waterlooville.

Officials from Britain's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) hold information for Thomas Cook passengers at Manchester Airport. Picture: Oli Scarff /AFP/Getty Images

Officials from Britain's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) hold information for Thomas Cook passengers at Manchester Airport. Picture: Oli Scarff /AFP/Getty Images

Cancelled Thomas Cook flights at Larnaca International Airport, Cyprus. Picture: IAKOVOS HATZISTAVROU/AFP/Getty Images

Cancelled Thomas Cook flights at Larnaca International Airport, Cyprus. Picture: IAKOVOS HATZISTAVROU/AFP/Getty Images