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(CNN) - Hundreds of thousands of travelers face a nightmare scenario this week, when the collapse of tour operator Thomas Cook left them stranded abroad.
All flights and vacations booked through the company have been canceled and all retail stores closed.
Around 600,000 travelers are affected, and the countries with the most stranded tourists are Spain, Turkey, Tunisia and Greece.
LOOK: About 600,000 Thomas Cook travelers are stranded after the company's collapse
In Germany, one of Thomas Cook's largest markets, the state-owned broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that insurance companies will help repatriate 140,000 stranded German customers.
Thomas Cook France reports that around 10,000 French clients are currently on vacation and an emergency number (01 45 05 40 81) has been established to offer advice.
Virgin Atlantic has tweeted that they are helping bring Thomas Cook passengers and staff home from Cuba, Jamaica and the United States. An EE phone number has been set. UU. (+1888747 7477) for customers currently in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas or New York.
The Government of the United Kingdom and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) say that a massive repatriation operation has been launched to bring home more than 160,000 travelers from the United Kingdom.
LOOK: Thomas Cook, British tour operator, collapses and leaves thousands of travelers stranded
It has been called Operation Matterhorn, and it is the largest peacetime repatriation in the United Kingdom.
This is what affected travelers need to know.
I'm currently on vacation with Thomas Cook. How do I get home?
The CAA will organize return flights for ATOL-protected travelers currently abroad who planned to fly back to the UK with Thomas Cook.
¿What is ATOL? It stands for "Air Travel Organizer License", a UK financial protection scheme that protects most vacations in air packages sold by UK-based travel companies.
Basically, it prevents travelers from running out of assistance or facing financial loss if their travel company stops working. That is exactly what happened in the UK on Sunday.
For those who are currently abroad and who will return to the United Kingdom with Thomas Cook, the CAA offers new flights to take them home.
"Depending on your location, this will be on flights operated by CAA or using existing flights with other airlines," the statement said.
“Whenever possible, our goal is to be as close as possible to your original time and date of return. Different repatriation arrangements are being made for different places ... In a small number of cases, passengers can be asked to book their own return flights with other airlines and claim the cost of this return. ”
The UK Foreign Office has tweeted that due to a limited number of aircraft, it is "prioritizing passengers in areas with limited alternative options."
"We are doing everything possible to take home passengers who can no longer travel with the services of Thomas Cook," he added.
For specific information on new flights, go to the CAA's “destination orientation” website, which offers a table of departure airports that you can select for information on your new flight.
"If we have provided you with a repatriation flight and you make your own arrangements to return to the United Kingdom without authorization from the Civil Aviation Authority, you cannot claim the cost of those alternative arrangements unless there are exceptional circumstances." says the CAA.
Travelers returning after October 6 must book their own return flights. But, if you are protected by ATOL, you will be reimbursed for the cost of your new flight.
Condor, a German airline owned by Thomas Cook, will continue flight operations, he said in a press release.
“Condor continues to operate as a German company. In order to avoid liquidity restrictions, Condor has requested a bridge loan guaranteed by the State, which is currently being reviewed by the Federal Government, ”the statement said.
For non-British travelers, if you have travel insurance, check with the company as soon as possible. Save all your receipts and documents, as you will need them for the insurance claim process.
Become familiar with your rights. If you booked through a travel agency or an associated airline, you can receive a refund, depending on whether the flights are covered by travel insurance.
It is worth checking if other airlines will help, but don't assume you will get a discount. Other carriers are not responsible for honoring tickets on failed airlines, but may still offer options.
If you are talking on the phone with a travel or insurance representative, remember to be friendly and courteous: expressing your frustration will not take you anywhere.
What about the hotels?
Now bad news: Travelers who only booked hotels through Thomas Cook and not packages with flights included must pay the hotel bill.
But if your vacation in Thomas Cook included flights, there are specific tips on accommodation.
The CAA says that if you are currently abroad with an ATOL-protected vacation package with Thomas Cook, or any company that is part of the Thomas Cook Group, the authority "will seek to guarantee your stay directly at your hotel."
“If you have difficulties with your hotel protected by ATOL, or if your hotel asks for payment, call +44 1753 330 330.”
The CAA says it may take a few days to secure these arrangements. In the meantime, don't make a payment to your hotel unless the CAA team tells you otherwise.
“If our guarantee is not accepted by the accommodation provider, we may have to transfer you to another hotel for the duration of your stay,” says the CAA guide.
"In these circumstances, the CAA will inform other providers, such as transfers, about the change in your accommodation and flight details."
If you are not protected by ATOL, the CAA says that it cannot make a claim for out-of-pocket costs and additional nights of hotel accommodation, but you can make a claim to your travel insurer, bank or your credit card issuer.
How do I know if I am protected by ATOL?
“If your flight or vacation is protected by ATOL, you should have received an ATOL Certificate as soon as you made any payment for the reservation, either by email or by mail,” says the CAA.
If you did receive an ATOL Certificate, see the section "Who is protecting your trip?"
“If the company indicated in your ATOL certificate is not part of the Thomas Cook Group, you should contact that company directly to request advice about your reservation,” says the authority.
I have not traveled yet. How do I get a refund?
Don't bother going to the airport. All Thomas Cook flights were canceled immediately after the announcement of the company's closure.
As for getting a refund, again, in the UK it all comes down to ATOL. If your vacation was protected, you should be able to file a claim through the ATOL scheme.
Now this is where things get a little difficult.
The CAA says that if you booked a vacation with Thomas Cook but your flights are with an airline unrelated to the Thomas Cook Group, your flights may still be available.
"It is recommended that you check with the airline if you can still travel," says the authority's advice.
“If you want to travel, you can do so and submit a claim to ATOL for the cost of replacing your other travel services. You are not required to use their flights and, instead, you can claim a refund under the ATOL scheme. ”
As a general rule, it is better to pay your flights with a credit card, as it will mean that you will be better protected if the travel company goes bankrupt.
“Several countries have rules that hold credit cards responsible, not debit cards. Therefore, it is worth calling your credit card company and asking them, ”advises CNN aviation expert Richard Quest