Britain's fifth largest airline Monarch ceased trading and went into administration in the early hours of Monday morning, leaving as many as 110,000 tourists left stranded abroad.
The UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) immediately announced an operation put into place by the UK government to repatriate the affected tourists, several thousands of whom were, and many still are, on the Costa del Sol.
Since Monday replacement flights are being provided for passengers booked on all of Monarch's UK-bound flights until 15 October. The government has described the operation as the “biggest ever peacetime repatriation” which aims “to fly 110,000 Monarch passengers back to the UK at no cost to them”.
Passengers have been advised to consult the special website set up by the CAA to check on the status of their replacement flights.
Andrew Haines, Chief Executive of the CAA, said on Monday morning: “We know that Monarch's decision to stop trading will be very distressing for all of its customers and employees. This is the biggest UK airline ever to cease trading.”
The British government released a statement on Monday saying that although Monarch customers abroad should expect delays and disruption, they “are taking steps to ensure that there is aviation capacity to return the huge number of passengers”.
Busy in Malaga
With 46 scheduled Monarch flights to the UK in one week, Malaga airport has been one of the busiest for the officials and staff involved in putting the repatriation operation into practice.
The British consul for Andalucía and the Canary Islands, Charmaine Arbouin, told SUR in English that by the end of the first week 15,200 passengers will have been flown to the UK on replacement flights.
The eight members of the British consular team in Malaga have been joined by six officials deployed by the government to make sure the process runs as smoothly as possible.
“We have had no major problems in Malaga,” said Arbouin. “The airport authority Aena and the ground handlers Menzies have been absolutely amazing,” she added.
The vast majority of Monarch customers have so far been put on a flight on the same day as their previous booking, and most of them have been around about the same time of day.
Passengers arriving at Malaga airport on Monday morning to catch flights to London Luton, Birmingham and Manchester said they had received emails or text messages informing them of the situation and their new flight details.
The biggest disruption affecting some passengers is that their alternative flight took them to a different UK airport from their original booking. Ongoing transport is being organised, however, to take customers to their planned destination.
Since Monday consular staff have been at the check-in desks ready to assist vulnerable passengers.
“There are cases of older people with special requirements, and the information about these has not been passed over from Monarch to the CAA,” said Arbouin.
“Some customers who have had to extend their stay have run out of medication,” she added, as another example of the help the consular staff are providing.
“Most people are accepting the disruptions and are grateful for being repatriated,” said Arbouin.
The CAA repatriation scheme is finding replacement flights for all Monarch customers with seats booked to the UK at least until 15 October. This is regardless of nationality or place of residence, the authority explained earlier this week.
There are however 300,000 passengers who have booked seats with Monarch on flights out of the UK who are not so lucky and are being advised on how to claim their money back.