Travel agency helps woman to get home after Thomas Cook collapse

Travel agency helps woman to get home after Thomas Cook collapse

2 October 2019

A DOWNPATRICK woman who made it home safely from Tenerife after the collapse of the Thomas Cook holiday firm has praised her local travel agency.

Noreen Hanlon flew off for a sunshine break with her niece to the Canary Islands on September 20, just days before the the 178 year-old holiday firm failed.

As the Downpatrick woman woke for breakfast on the second day of her sunshine break, the collapse of the holiday giant after last minute negotiations to save it broke down was making headlines around the globe.

Noreen’s flight from Belfast was full of holidaymakers, many of whom had booked their holiday directlywith Thomas Cook. Those who were staying in the same resort could not get any answers and ended up relying on Noreen to keep them informed.

No sooner had news of the travel giant’s demise reverberated around the globe when Noreen received a reassuring telephone call from Marie Gallagher at Downe Travel.

Staff at the Market Street travel agency — who were keeping a close eye on the Thomas Cook negotiations — were at their desks within hours of the holiday firm’s collapse.

They arrived at 6am on September 23 to prepare to contact customers but were conscious not to telephone those who were abroad too early in case they thought there was a family emergency.

Noreen said she was told not to worry, enjoy her holiday and that she would be able to return home safely.

“Hearing regulalry from Marie and Paul Gallagher on the phone was very reassuring,” she explained. “The fact that they contacted me highlights the value of booking your holiday with a local travel agency. You know the staff, they know you and you can contact them directly and do not have to go through a call centre.

“Many people who were in the same hotel as my niece and I booked their holidays via Thomas Cook shops which obviously closed. They were getting no information and asked me to provide them with updates after I spoke with Downe Travel.”

Noreen said she was provided with all the information she needed to put her mind at rest and enjoy the rest of her break.

“We flew out on the Friday and the following morning in our hotel Thomas Cook reps were there selling various trips as is normally the case. No one had any idea about what was to happen and at midnight on the Sunday the firm collapsed,” she continued.

“At 8.30am on the Monday, Marie rang our hotel. My niece and I were the only ones who knew what was happening and how people would get home. Those who booked with Thomas Cook could not make contact with anyone as all their shops were closed.”

Noreen — who flew home to Belfast last Friday night on an Iberia plane — said she was able to pass on the regular updates she received from Downe Travel. 

In addition to contacting passengers who were already on holiday and those due to fly, the Downpatrick company also posted regular updates on its website.

“Downe Travel rang us every day and I have no doubt that only a local travel agency would provide that kind of service. It was very reassuring,” continued Noreen.

She also revealed that shortly after the collapse of Thomas Cook, scammers were masquerading as staff from the travel agency on line, asking for up to £200 for a flight home.

“We contacted Marie and she told us not to pay any money as it was a scam and the Civil Aviation Authority were arranging to repatriate people. I am so grateful to the Downe Travel staff. Booking your holiday through a local firm is so important,” she said.

“We heard stories about hotels not letting people who had booked with Thomas Cook leave unless they handed over money. We had no such problems and at dinner every evening my niece and I were approached by other holidaymakers asking us about the latest update we had heard from home.

“Other people in our hotel were getting no information as there were no Thomas Cook reps. Apart from my niece and I, no one knew anything. In a way, Marie and Paul were indirectly helping many of the people in our hotel. I cannot thank theme enough.

Noreen said she experienced no major inconvenience and that when she arrived at the airport for her flight hime, Civil Aviation Authority 

(CAA) staff were on hand to make sure everyone departed safely on their chartered flight.

The Downpatrick woman said while she is sorry for the Thomas Cook staff who have lost their jobs, her decision to book through her local travel agent meant she was not caught up in the chaos and confusion when the travel firm collapsed.

Noreen, who was one of 150,000 holidaymakers who had to be repatriated, says she always books local, knowing that if anything does go wrong on her holiday she has direct contact with staff she knows.

This week, Downe Travel posted a social media update explaining that clients booked on a future Thomas Cook holiday are entitled to the applicable refund.

The firm says the CAA had advised that the refund process with commence next Monday, October 7, with staff awaiting further instructions from them. When the information arrives, all customers will be notified accordingly.

Downe Travel has also confirmed that it has been able to assist new and existing clients in finding alternative holidays.