Loss-making Aer Lingus has refused to scrap a lucrative perk which provides its serving and former directors with free flights around the world, the Sunday Tribune has learned.

The cash-strapped airline has also revealed that its "concession travel entitlement" scheme equally applies to family members of the directors involved.

"The concession applies to their travel on vacation and is on a space available basis. It is not available for their own individual business purposes.

"The entitlement lasts for the same length of time the director served on the board," company spokeswoman Gillian Culhane said. "We have no plans to abolish concession travel."

Culhane said the disgraced former head of Anglo Irish Bank , Seán FitzPatrick, who served as board member of Aer Lingus for four years until 2008, "does not receive concession travel from Aer Lingus".

But she refused to clarify whether this was because his entitlement to the travel has ceased, or because he simply hasn't availed of the perk.

This raises the possibility that FitzPatrick, whom the airline previously confirmed could avail of the perk until 2012, continues to have access to free flights for himself and his family should he so wish.

The revelation that the company does not intend to abolish the free flights arrangement has provoked criticism from Ryanair boss and major Aer Lingus shareholder Michael O'Leary.

A spokesman said O'Leary believes there is "no reason" to have 14 non-executive directors on the board, adding that the free flights for directors, former directors and their spouses and children is an "absurd and outdated perk".

A spokeswoman for transport minister Noel Dempsey, who previously said he was "sure" the perk was under review, said: "Minister Dempsey understood that the issue was being reviewed by the company. We have not been informed of the outcome of that review."