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.
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.
‘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.
‘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.
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.
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.
‘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.