Thomas Cook cabin crew Danny Cossar (pictured) made a video while being held hostage in Cuba for cash
Thomas Cook customers and staff banned from leaving Cuba unless they paid unpaid bills left by the collapsed travel firm are in the air and heading back to Britain today.
The 11 crew and more than 60 holidaymakers were trapped in the communist state by officials ‘holding them to ransom’ as ‘hostages’ until they handed over between £1,000 and £3,000 in cash.
The victims, who had already paid for their holidays, claim they were ‘held prisoner’ in hotels and even threatened with violence when they refused to hand over the money.
After 48 hours of chaos the British Ambassador to Cuba, Dr Antony Stokes, has now intervened and instructed to allow customers to depart.
And now their Airbus A330 has taken off from Holguin Airport this morning and will land at Gatwick later today.
The group had been staying at the Paradisus Rio de Oro hotel close to the popular resort of Guardalavaca.
In an online video made before their rescue, Thomas Cook cabin crew Danny Cossar described how they were barred from leaving for the airport.
He said: ‘We were due to check out and get to the airport this afternoon. We were taken back off the bus, and we were told, as well as the passengers, we all had to pay.
‘We feel completely isolated over here, no real communication at all. We haven’t any rooms, there’s nothing put in place for us, it’s just a waiting game’.
Dozens of British holidaymakers on Thomas Cook packages and at least 11 members of staff were left stuck in Cuba (a group pictured in Havana yesterday) after the travel firm went bust this week
One concerned relative claimed her mother was ‘threatened by guards’ at one hotel
Another person claimed her parents were being ‘held hostage’
The Thomas Cook cabin crew say they were asked for £3,000 in cash – the captain offered to pay it with his credit card but was refused because America’s economic sanctions make paying by card difficult on the island.
The 11 workers, who have lost their jobs, were then told they couldn’t leave the hotel.
Betty Knight, 52, who has worked as Thomas Cook cabin crew for 13 years, has been speaking to colleagues who were stuck in Cuba.
She said: ‘Some of them are young mums, desperate to get home. They have been held to ransom.’
Some British tourists were also ‘held in the lobby’ of the Brisas Guardalavaca hotel.
Sherry Bullough, whose parents were among the victims told The Independent: ‘They are being asked for £1,000 but they haven’t got the money to pay.
‘They have had a meeting but been told that they can’t really do anything. The hotel have turned the wifi off. They aren’t allowing recording of meetings or confrontations. It’s so very upsetting.’
Another concerned relative claimed her mother was ‘threatened’ by security at one hotel.
She tweeted: ‘My mum is staying in Cuba, they are holding her hostage not letting her leave until she pays for her whole stay which she has already payed for.
‘This is f***ing disgraceful, she was locked out of her room and threatened by guards.’
Another person posted on social media: ‘Any up to date info on the #ThomasCook fiasco ? My parents are basically hostages #Cuba #notthebest.’
The group had been staying at the Paradisus Rio de Oro hotel (pictured) close to the popular resort of Guardalavaca
Britain’s ‘man in Havana’, Dr Antony Stokes, then stepped in and the people were all released.
He tweeted today: ‘Hotels in #Cuba now have authority/instruction to allow customers, and air crew, to depart without paying (on basis of ATOL guarantee).
‘Very grateful for patience of all affected in distressing circumstances.’
Holidaymaker Shaun Woods said his flight was supposed to leave the island on Wednesday, but his hotel said it would not let him get an airport transfer until he paid.
He told the BBC: ‘They say they have wages to pay and we have been using their rooms and eating their food. It’s getting very worrying now.’
He added that around 30 Thomas Cook customers at his particular hotel were affected.
Holidaymakers and cabin crew claim the Cuban Government does not recognise the UK Civil Aviation Authority’s ATOL protection scheme.
Under normal circumstances the government would only agree to rescue passengers with ATOL cover.
But amid the Thomas Cook crisis they have agreed to fly all stranded customers home, triggering the largest repatriation of UK citizens since the Second World War.
As many as 150,000 Thomas Cook passengers were left stranded across the globe after the travel firm collapsed this week
A woman claiming to be a Thomas Cook employee messaged friends to say they had not been guaranteed rooms overnight and were forced to sleep on the floor: ‘Things are getting serious here.
‘The Cuban government don’t have a system in place for this. They don’t recognise the CAA.
‘They won’t let anyone leave the country until someone proves that they can get their money.’
British ambassador Dr Antony Stokes apologised for the ‘distressing situation’ and sought to reassure stranded passengers and their loved ones.
Just after midnight on Wednesday he said Thomas Cook hotels in Cuba had been instructed to let customers and air crew leave without paying.
He added: ‘Very grateful for patience of all affected in distressing circumstances.’
Responding to the claims, a UK Government spokesman told MailOnline: ‘We understand that this is a hugely distressing situation for Thomas Cook passengers, people with holidays booked with Thomas Cook and Thomas Cook staff.
‘The Government and CAA are working around the clock to support all those affected, undertaking an emergency operation to repatriate more than 150,000 passengers stranded abroad.
‘The Government have deployed teams on the ground to support those affected, and are in contact with local authorities and hotels.’