22 September 2008

Stranded in Skiathos - XL.com Goes Bust!

I suspect that many of us live with the comfortable notion that bad things always happen to someone else, never to us. Our last two weeks have shown that this is not always a reliable adage upon which to depend...

On 5th September, we left behind an autumnal Newcastle Airport and jetted off to the Aegean sunshine with a fortnight in Skiathos in prospect. This was to be our first holiday on our own for four years and we were looking forward to some stress-free time with no-one to please but ourselves. As usual, it took a few days to disentangle our minds from the hiatus of work, our unwinding aided by nothing more taxing than reading a novel and the decision about where to eat.

The first rumour that all was not well came on the Tuesday: a second-hand, overheard comment that XL.com was having problems. There did not seem to be any supporting evidence on the BBC website and our Kosmar rep. set our minds at rest with her memories of similar rumours when working for other operators and the suggestion that this one, apparently, was founded in XL's intention to close down some of its unprofitable winter routes. We set our concerns aside and continued to relax on the beach.

On the fateful day, we rose to hear that XL.com was indeed in the hands of the Receiver and that we, along with around 200,000 other holiday-makers, were stranded. Our reps arrived to inform us officially of the news, having found out only that morning that they had no jobs, were not getting paid, and were stranded along with us.

It is interesting how varied human nature can be. The reps, despite their circumstances, told all in our accommodation that they were staying on to help organise our rescue and were thankfully relieved when most of us appreciated their commitment and understood that our plight was not their fault. We all experienced varying degrees of anxiety about how we would get home but one selfish couple, due to fly home the next day, were insistant that their questions were answered before anyone else's, declaring that their (otherwise enjoyable) holiday was "ruined" by this turn of events. In contrast, most of us understoood that there was a system in place to repatriate travellers in these circumstances and were quite pragmatic about the possibility of a delayed return home. The owners of our accommodation (who alleged that they had not been paid all season) decided to limit their losses by demanding that we leave by the end of the next day.

The day's intended relaxation was lost to hanging around, waiting for news of what would happen to us. Eventually, we got two hour's notice that we were being moved to various other locations.

It seems that Thompson's was charged with coordinating the rescue operation in Greece and we were moved for the second week of our holiday to one of their hotels on a bed-and-breakfast instead of a self-catering basis at no extra cost. The hotel was far superior to our apartment which, to be honest, was in dire need of refurbishment.

Those due to fly home were decanted to other locations to await news of their travel arrangements. What a test of endurance transpired for them. Travelling only a day late, they were ferried by sea to the mainland, bussed to Athens, flown to the UK and, some of them, bussed to their starting points; an arduous journey, upwards of eight hours but at least they got home.

We heard nothing about our arrangements until the day before our expected departure, the authorities having had a week to get things organised. As it happened, our flight home was scheduled for only ten minutes later than our original flight and, after delays, we got home only an hour later than we would have done with XL.com.

It was not the holiday we had planned. It was not the stress-free time we had hoped for. It cost us more because of the less favourable location of our alternative accommodation. However, by all accounts, our traumas were insignificant in comparison with the experiences of other holiday-makers.

We had our holiday, got home, and still have our jobs. Most of those who lost their holiday will be compensated. Even those who had to pay their own way home (£250 each!) will get over it. Spare a thought for the failed company's former employees: aircrew, cabin crew, reps., office staff, cleaners and others whose livelihoods have been cut off at a stroke.

If you ever find yourself in similar circumstances, take heart: the system works. Our thanks to ABTA, ATOL, Thompson's, the CAA and our ex-Kosmar reps.

3 comments :

  1. Welcome back to the UK.
    Pete at work had to rebook his holiday and looked like losing the hotel fees too. Glad you made it back in one piece.
    Thanks for the post card.

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  2. Thanks for your comments. I was one of the 7 Kosmar reps in Skiathos when this happened. I assume you were staying in Green Meadow's as they asked all there guests to leave. Thank-you again as it was not a nice time for any of us but is good to get some recognition for our efforts.

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  3. You're welcome and, yes, were were in Green Meadows. It's difficult to believe it was only nine months ago.

    I imagine there were some pretty hectic organisational challenges at the time and that it has been pretty fraught for you guys since then. I hope you and your fellow reps. are recovering from your ordeal and have found alternative employment, although I guess that has not been easy in the current economic climate.

    Nice to hear from you.

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