Thomas Cook have gone into administration and from own, admittedly short, experience, it really doesn’t surprise me.
Of course, I have a huge sympathies for all those people who have lost their jobs, have lost money that they’ve paid or are, right now, stranded abroad. But after using them just the once I decided to never do so again (and I never did).
Here’s the story…
It was 2017 and I needed to go to the US for work. More precisely to Washington DC. Thomas Cook gave me the best cost / flight times option so I went with them. Why not? They have a huge experience in providing these kinds of services, and as a travel agent, you get the advantage that they look after everything for you.
Now, first I need to explain the flights. Getting there was a Thomas Cook flight to New York, with a connecting flight to Washington. Back, was a connecting flight to Boston, before flying back with Thomas Cook again. All was arranged via Thomas Cook, including the connecting flights (which were provided by Jet Blue).
I really didn’t pay much attention to the flight times until, on my way out, I had a huge delay getting my connecting flight (due to various factors). It wasn’t a problem because there was a big time difference between both flights. However, I now realised that coming back the time between the connections was a LOT shorter – just 20 minutes. I checked out the airport at Boston and realised that I had to go between terminals and that alone was going to take sometime. Why would Thomas Cook have made these arrangements if the chances of me getting that connection was so slim?
Now in Washington, I found my only option to get hold of Thomas Cook to speak about this further was by phone. And they didn’t have a local number – I had to call the UK number, internationally, at my own expense. I should also add that because I was going between an AirBnB and a conference centre, both with WiFi, I hadn’t bothered with the hassle of getting a SIM for a local phone network.
Getting hold of them was frustating – first time they put me on hold and forgot about me and, second time, they just me “just try it”. Really? That’s their advice? My flight back was on Saturday – if I missed it, due to the connection, when was the next one? Tuesday. And they wanted me to “just try it”.
I rang Jet Blue and they were really helpful – they didn’t have an earlier flight that I could get but suggested, when I get to the airport, to speak to someone in person to see what they could do.
I put it the back of my mind but all week I remained concerned – leaving a customer worried during their time abroad is really not what travel agents should be doing.
On the Saturday, I arrived at the Washington airport to get my Jet Blue flight. I spoke to a lady at the gate and she couldn’t have been more helpful, despite it not actually being their issue. She gave me details of how to get to my departure date and, unlike Thomas Cook, put my mind at ease with regard to the journey through the airport – unlike coming in, my luggage would be transferred and there would be next to no security (this was my first time in the US, so this wasn’t something I knew anything about).
The Jet Blue flight left on time and landed 15 minutes early (it seems to be their policy of adding some “buffer” time to their flight estimates to ensure that small delays don’t then cause knock-on issues, which seems to be a sensible policy). I had more time than I thought but still had to rush to get to my Thomas Cook flight. And, you know what else Jet Blue did? They put out special messages over the tannoy specifically for anyone transferring to that flight from them (i.e. me but without saying so) to guide me to where I needed to be going. On top of that, they’d warned the staff at the Thomas Cook gate that I would be turning up last minute.
I got there just in time. But only thanks to Jet Blue, who I’d recommend to anyone.
As for the Thomas Cook flights, these were big, new planes designed for transatlantic flight. Although they were good value for money they weren’t “budget”, so I wasn’t expecting the cut-corners that I experienced. On the flight back, they didn’t even provide screens – you had to use their app on your own device to watch any TV or film. Which is fine, if they warn you in advance. When you’re on a plane, with no mobile connection and too far from the airport WiFi, to only be told of this when seated is too late. And, have you tried holding your phone up in front of you for 2 hours to watch a film?
To be honest, the flight quality was the cherry but the entire bun beneath it was down to their lack of customer care. And that’s why you go to a travel agent. When they don’t provide the one thing that justifies their existence in that category, you end up where they are today.