Airlines should be ‘taken to task’ to change the way the trade pays carriers, according to Travel Counsellors’ UK managing director.

Speaking in a panel debate for a Travel Weekly Future of Travel webcast, Kirsten Hughes said it was unacceptable airlines were often paid months ahead of passengers departing yet  had taken months to refund customers during the Covid crisis.

She said: “It was a challenge getting money back from the airlines. When the major airlines put everyone at 12 weeks, if not 16 weeks, on [paying back] refunds there was a lot of pressure.

“Airlines need taking to task at some point. What needs addressing is how we pay airlines.

“The fact that they can take full payment 11 months before customers travel and then take months to refund is not acceptable.”

But Hughes admitted imminent changes to airline payment terms were unlikely.

“I don’t know how we are going to address it because airlines need customer monies to travel,” she said. “Unless the government steps in with something I cannot see it [change] happening any time soon.”

Hughes suggested it would have been easier in some cases at the height of lockdown to refund clients had airlines failed, because airline failure insurance would have meant passengers were paid out immediately.

She also called for suppliers not to make across the board changes to payment terms with their distribution channels because of insurance being pulled in the current climate.

She said: “There has been a bit of a one size fits all [approach] where insurance has been pulled for the whole industry and suppliers now want to change payment terms with everybody. I don’t think everyone should be tarred with the same brush.

“There needs to be more credibility around trust accounts. We all have to work with everyone. We have got to have each others’ backs through the next six to 12 months.”