Travel Counsellors boss David Speakman has called on the government to guarantee it will cover costs incurred by stranded customers during the current volcanic ash crisis.

Speakman said Travel Counsellors was in a fortunate position in that it was financially able to assist its customers where necessary and incur costs itself to help them.

But he argued that many travel companies, and particularly airlines, were not financially equipped to deal with such an issue, and the government should step in with financial aid as it would in the case of a natural disaster.

“This is not about the industry trying to wriggle out of footing any bills, this is about a financial and humanitarian issue being faced by customers around the world,” he said.

“This situation is not the same as a company going bust or an issue facing a single airport, where the industry will rally and take on the costs of helping stranded customers; this is a totally different paradigm.

“The government needs to get off the election stump, and first and foremost it should make a statement that it will ensure that customers will be looked after and repatriated at their (the government’s) cost.”

Speakman said that plans to send Royal Navy ships to help repatriate customers would have very little effect as relatively few clients would receive help.

“The government is not taking action as it thinks that airlines will look after passengers and take the brunt of the cost, but these demands are beyond what can realistically be budgeted for,” he added.

“Logistically and financially, the industry needs support, and that should start with guarantees to reassure customers overseas.”