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By Jason Moore in Palma and Peter Griffiths in London

Thousands of stranded tourists flew home yesterday after the collapse of Britain's third biggest tour operator wrecked holidays and sparked chaotic scenes at airports.

Hundreds of families queued in airports around the world to find out how they would get back, while many more in Britain learned only at the last minute that their plans were ruined.

At Palma airport the operation to bring the 500 or so stranded XL passengers home ran smoothly with the TUI Group, Thomas Cook and other British tour operators placing all stranded passengers on their flights. “It has been a bit of a nightmare. We discovered XL had gone into administration through the media. We spent most of Friday on the telephone trying to get some information about our flight home. There wasn´t much information at all,” said Mike Collins, who was on holiday with his family in Alcudia. “After a sleepless night a taxi arrived early this morning (yesterday) and took us to the airport we didn´t know what flight we would be catching,” he added. Mike Collins continued: “we were lucky because we booked a package holiday and therefore we were covered by XL´s bond.” Ian Hallsworth, on holiday with his wife in Calas de Mallorca, said that they had booked their flight for next summer with XL. “We´ve lost it,” he said.

Hallsworth also said that there was little information forthcoming.
But just before 2p.m. yesterday the Collins and Hallsworths were found a flight home to East Midlands. Their nightmare had come to and. “It has been an awful end to our holiday and it has really put us off travelling abroad,” they told the Bulletin.
The remaining XL passengers were due to fly home yesterday afternoon.
In Britain among those affected by XL Leisure Group going into administration were a couple planning to marry in Florida, honeymooners heading for the Greek island of Skiathos and a wedding party also going to Greece, according to media reports.

Passengers on one flight in Orlando, Florida, said the plane was stopped by two police cars as it was taxiing to the runway. “It was complete chaos,“ Damon Emery, travelling with his wife and two children, told the Daily Mail. “We were just about to take off when the captain told us to return to the terminal.” Londoner Terry Baldwin, 42, only found out that his family holiday to the United States had been cancelled when he arrived at Gatwick Airport, south of London. “I am so annoyed and upset. They were still taking money from passengers up to last night and, in my view, that is robbery,“ he was reported as saying in the Daily Telegraph. “We've booked it all on the debit card, so I don't think I am getting any of this back. It's devastating.” About 85'000 tourists in the United States, Europe, North Africa and the Caribbean were affected when XL Leisure Group grounded all flights on Friday, a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) spokesman said.

The tour operator blamed the global economic downturn and volatile fuel prices for its sudden collapse, the latest in a series of failures in the travel industry.

Administrator Kroll said there would be significant but unspecified job losses at XL, while the company's Chairman Phil Wyatt said all 1'700 staff in Britain were at risk.

The CAA said many tourists will be allowed to complete their holidays and fly back on special flights arranged by the CAA, although 10'000 people who booked just flights with XL must pay for a new ticket home. “We don't do some mass clear-out and bring everybody back over two days. There is physically not the aircraft to do that,“ the CAA spokesman said. “People will see out their holiday and we will bring them home as close as possible to their original flight time.” Travellers who booked their holidays through one of XL's tour operators are protected under a scheme operated by the CAA and a scheme called ATOL (Air Travel Organisers' Licensing).

However, those who booked their flights through XL but found their own accommodation are not protected. The CAA said they would try to find space on their flights “for a reasonable fee”.

Spanish airline Futura International and Zoom airlines, a discount transatlantic carrier, have both collapsed in recent weeks.
British Airways Chairman Willie Walsh predicted on Friday that 30 more airlines could go bust in the next four months.