Southall Travel Group says it has processed 94% of cash refunds worth £22 million to package holiday customers with travel dates up until May 31.

The group, which serves 1.1 million customers a year, also confirmed it will have completed refunds to package customers due to depart before June 30 by June 15.

A statement said the company had made “significant changes to its business in order to meet the extraordinary demands it is facing”, including increasing its refund processing team from 15 to 300.

However, it said flight-only refunds were being delayed by airline processes.

The statement said: “Working with 280 airlines, many of which are constantly changing their policies, the group is processing its ‘flight-only’ refunds as soon as it receives the money from the airline. However, a large number of airlines have disabled travel agent access to the standard refund system.

“In its place, these airlines have imposed a manual process, which means agents must complete an application form for each and every passenger on the booking, which is both time-consuming and labour-intensive.”

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Southall has also updated its deposit policy, with customers now needing to pay the remainder of the balance 10 days before departure, instead of one month.

Jaymin Borkhatria, chief commercial officer, said: “These are unprecedented times and, as such, we have had to adapt our business and make significant changes in order to satisfy customer demand, and continue to deliver a quality service.

“We have already processed £22m in refunds and in order to ensure our customers are able to reach us in a timely fashion, and to give us the ability to offer swift and excellent customer service, we have significantly increased our call centre capacity. This has seen our average call waiting time decrease to just two minutes.

“As a successful, privately-owned UK travel business which has been operating for more than 35 years, we are in an enviable position whereby we have a strong business model with significant cash reserves, giving us the ability to adapt quickly and effectively.”

Borkhatria added: “We recently removed the administration fee for our OTA brands, for all flights cancelled due to Covid-19, including those who have already received their refund. We believe we are the only business in the OTA sector to have done this, as we recognise these are extremely difficult times, and we wish to help our customers through and provide them with as much support as we can offer.”

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