Boris Johnson has pledged to help holidaymakers stranded by travel company Thomas Cook's closure, as he questioned whether bosses are not incentivised to prevent their business's demise.
The British Prime Minister was speaking before the announcement that the 178-year-old firm has ceased trading with immediate effect.
More than 150,000 British holidaymakers are currently abroad and will need to be repatriated, the Civil Aviation Authority said.
Mr Johnson told reporters on board the RAF Voyager travelling to New York for the United Nations General Assembly that his thoughts were with customers.
"It's a very difficult situation and obviously our thoughts are very much with the customers with Thomas Cook, the holiday makers, who may now face difficulties getting home."
Speaking before the collapse was announced in the early hours of Monday, the PM said "we will do our level best to get them (travellers) home".
"There will be plans ready to deal with that if it's necessary," he said.
"One way or the other the state will have to step in quite rightly to help stranded holidaymakers."
He said ways must be investigated so tour operators can protect themselves from bankruptcy, following the collapse of Thomas Cook as well as Monarch's demise in 2017.
"One is driven to reflect on whether the directors of these companies are properly incentivised to sort such matters out," he added.
The PM also sought to fend off criticism over the lack of a state bailout for Thomas Cook.
"It is perfectly true that a request was made to the government for a subvention of about £150 million," he said.
"Clearly that's a lot of taxpayers' money and sets up, as people will appreciate, a moral hazard in the case of future such commercial difficulties that companies face."
The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said it has launched Britain's largest peacetime repatriation to bring home stranded Thomas Cook passengers.
Here the PA news agency looks at some of the key numbers involved in the operation:
- All of the travel company's flights have been cancelled - that means the 105 aircraft it operates, according to its website, have been grounded.
- There are 600,000 Thomas Cook travellers who have been left stuck overseas.
- More than 150,000 of those are Britons.
- The airlift is almost twice the size of the repatriation effort required when Monarch went bust in October 2017.
- In that instance, the CAA put on 567 flights which brought almost 84,000 passengers back to the UK.
- The final cost of the Monarch operation to taxpayers was about £50 million. The Department for Transport would not put a firm figure on how much it would cost this time around but it is understood it could top £100 million.
- Dozens of charter planes have been brought in from as far afield as Malaysia to assist with the mass airlift.
- Only holidaymakers with return flights booked within the next two weeks, between Monday and Sunday October 6, will qualify for a free flight home, as close as possible to their original return date.
- On Monday September 30, one week into the repatriation process, the CAA will launch a service which will seek to process all refunds within 60 days of full information being received. Further details will be given at thomascook.caa.co.uk.
AN IRISH tourist is understood to have been among holidaymakers who were stopped from leaving their hotel in Tunisia for several hours over concerns about payment by their holiday operator Thomas Cook.