Furloughs, Change Fees, and Tarmac Delays

Image credit: Wikimedia user Piotrus, licensed under Creative Commons attribution

There’s a lot going on in the world of travel this week — so much, in fact, that it’s almost difficult to decide what to talk about.  Should we discuss the ongoing snowstorms and raging floods happening in various parts of the country, which are having the usual deleterious effects on travel?  What about the sequester-related furloughs that are crippling airports and creating a demand for exemption to the tarmac delay rule?  Or how about some discussion on the subject of the sudden and shocking change fee hikes announced by major airlines?

The truth is, there is almost no event in the travel world that doesn’t tie back to insurance somehow.  Whenever things go wrong and travelers are stressed or inconvenienced, there’s the possibility that some type of travel insurance coverage, somewhere, in some policy offered by some provider, could be of help.  There are no guarantees, and as always, coverage for events like the ones unfolding so rapidly in recent days is entirely dependent upon the individual traveler’s situation and insurance policy.  However, it’s worth running through some of the highlights in case you find that your circumstances resemble any of the following:

  1. FAA Dismay.  If you’re waiting at the airport…and waiting…and waiting…to get on a flight that has been delayed by the ongoing FAA furlough drama, check the terms of your insurance policy.  Most of them stipulate that after 5 or more hours of travel delay, you can at least seek reimbursement for incidental expenses related to your comfort and well-being, such as food or lodgings near the airport (in cases of extreme delay).  Make sure that if you’re planning to file a claim for these items, you keep all your receipts to help make your claims process go more smoothly.  Travel insurance coverage may also, in some cases, allow you to cancel your trip altogether after a significant delay (usually 24 hours or more, or a certain percentage of your scheduled trip length), and receive reimbursement of your pre-paid, non-refundable expenses.
    It’s also worth keeping in mind that beyond financial reimbursements, travel insurance providers are able to provide you with tangible assistance to navigate the frustration of a hitch in your plans.  A phone call to your provider’s assistance hotline could get you help in rebooking flights or finding hotel accommodations as needed.
  2. Speaking of rebooking… Rebooking your flight could, of course, come with one of those monstrous change fees that’s just been announced by some of the major carriers.  The good news is that since travel insurance tends to operate on a “make-whole” philosophy, chances are good that you’d be able to file a claim that includes your rebooking fee.  The intention of a sound travel insurance policy would be to ensure that you are able to change plans due to unforeseen circumstances without having to absorb significant additional costs.  Your travel insurance company will, of course, only consider reimbursement of expenses that aren’t already refunded to you by the airline, so you’ll need to make sure that you understand and account for any adjustments made to your account by your carrier before you file your claim.  Also, while it’s not a given on all policies, your particular insurance company might have a maximum amount that can be reimbursed for change fees, so make sure you know what the terms of your plan are.
  3. Tarmac Torture.  Time for some brutal honesty: There isn’t much that your travel insurance can really do for you if you’re subjected to an unbearably long tarmac delay, beyond the benefits for travel delay that we’ve already discussed.  Complicating matters further, once you’re on that airplane and the push-back is stopped, your options for changing plans are obviously quite limited, since you’re not going to be allowed to leave the aircraft.  However, if you do get to deplane after some length of time, it’s better to be one of the lucky travelers who has an insurance company to assist with rebooking hassles and reimbursements than to be without.

This is, without a doubt, an interesting time to be traveling.  With greater potential for inconveniences than we can recall in recent memory, something as relatively simple as boarding an airplane is suddenly an action that’s not for the faint of heart.  If you’re traveling in the near future and would like to discuss the terms of your travel insurance policy with an expert prior to your departure, so that you can be fully prepared for any eventuality, please feel free to call our licensed Customer Care representatives at 800-590-2650.

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