A leading Irish agent has hit out at airlines and cruise lines for ‘lacking empathy with the customer’ during the coronavirus crisis.

Mary McKenna, owner of Tour America and Cruise Holidays in Dublin, said she was feeling very uncomfortable trying to make customers take a ‘refund credit note’ or voucher, if what they really want is a full refund.

“We have to be more corporately responsible,” she said. “I’ve been in business for 25 years and I’ve got to do what’s right for my customer. I built my agency on a blueprint of core values, and that was to give the very best service to my clients.

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“If a flight or holiday is cancelled, they are entitled to a refund if they want one.”

The Department for Business (BEIS) is yet to make a decision on suspending the Package Travel Regulations (PTRs) requirement to refund consumers for cancelled bookings within 14 days.

Abta wants the 14-day window extended to four months, confirmation that refund credits will be protected, an emergency consumer hardship fund to help pay refunds where suppliers won’t, and “strong enforcement” against airlines which refuse refunds.

“A voucher is great if they are happy with it, but it’s not the solution,” McKenna said. “There has to be an option for the customer and making those that don’t want one, take a credit note, goes against everything I believe in. We all need to do the right thing,” said McKenna.

“Lots of airlines and cruise lines aren’t doing the right thing and that’s wrong and lacks empathy with the customer. None of us will have a business in the future if we don’t do the right thing,” she warned.

Her concerns echoed those of Travel Counsellors founder David Speakman, who said it was an “embarrassment” and a “disgrace” that airlines are refusing to pay back customer money and leaving many Atol holders on the hook.

Speaking in the latest Travel Weekly’s COVID-19 webcast, he likened the way airlines fund operations from customer money to a Ponzi scheme.