How to Buy Flight Cancellation Insurance

As American Airlines canceled hundreds of flights through October, passengers were left scrambling for alternate flights or airlines to handle their travel plans. Those actually flying experienced more flight delays than normal too. Savvy passengers with travel insurance came out on top though, thanks to a normally unused feature common to many policies.

Blame it on American Airlines bankruptcy issues, labor problems, maintenance problems or layoffs, in a week’s time the troubled airline had canceled about 300 flights, mostly in and out of Dallas/Fort Worth International (DFW) airport.

“Prior to the recent issues, American had been running a good operation, with on-time performance and reliability measures at their best levels in many years,” American Airlines spokesman Bruce Hicks said in an LA Times story. “The recent disruptions are primarily due to the significant increase in maintenance write-ups by our pilots, many right at the time of departure.”

It’s a situation totally out of the control of passengers but one that can be made a bit easier to swallow with some basic travel insurance that covers flight delays or cancellations and, most importantly right now, offers traveler assistance.Travel Guard, for example, has a single trip plan and an annual plan for frequent travelers.

Their Savvy Traveler plan covers trip cancellation, interruption and delay, emergency medical treatment or evacuation, lost, stolen or damaged baggage or personal effects and baggage delay on any one given trip. The cost? About $25 for a $500 flight in October.

Frequent fliers can get Annual Travel Insurance for personal or business travel that covers trips or vacations throughout the year. This one includes everything from trip cancellation and interruption to unannounced strikes, weather delays and more – plus it comes with coverage for medical expenses that might be incurred away from home. That’s especially important when traveling internationally.

I bought one of their annual plans last year for about $200. It paid off when some medical expenses I incurred sailing on a cruise in international waters added up to over $2000, little of which was paid by my primary health insurance. The travel insurance paid the rest.

Say a flight booked on American Airlines was cancelled. The airline would do its best to reschedule. Frequent flyers know the drill too: flight canceled, stand in long line at airline customer service counter and hope to get to destination at a reasonable time.

But what would my travel insurance have done for me? We asked Travel Guard to find out.

“In addition to the 24-hour assistance Travel Guard provides customers in rebooking their flights, accommodations and other pre-planned travel arrangements, in the event that their trip is delayed five or more hours, travel insurance can reimburse for expenses incurred until travel becomes possible,” Carol Mueller, VP of Travel Guard North America told Gadling.

That could come in handy when a late, weather-delayed flight causes a missed connection and the next flight out is tomorrow. Weather-related flight delays? Technically, not the airline’s problem. The travel insurance company, much like a travel agent, is on your side and ready to help when needed.

“Cancellation would be covered when due to mechanical/equipment failure of the carrier, or when inclement weather causes delay or cancellation of travel,” added Mueller. “We recommend customers contact us at our toll-free number as soon as they know their trip is going to be delayed, interrupted or cancelled and we can help with alternate solutions to their travel plans.”

Regardless of which travel insurance company we choose, having that protection along for the ride when traveling can pay off. Liability-limiting reasons for airlines to cancel or delay flights due to weather events and “maintenance” issues seem to be on the rise. That takes travel insurance from an optional extra not likely to be used to something that may be seriously considered.


[Flickr photos by Scott Ableman]

Galley Gossip: Will the volcanic eruption trigger a baby boom?

During 9/11 I was stuck in Zurich, Switzerland for over a week. Sure there are much worse places to be, but I spent ninety percent of that time sitting around the airport waiting to get back to the United States. Every single day I checked out the hotel, dragged my bags a few blocks in the dark to the train station, and waited at the airport just like thousands of other stranded passengers. I was number 800-and-something on the standby list and all the flights departing to the US – two of them a day – were full. Some passengers became impatient and decided to rent a car and drive to airports in neighboring countries in the hope of getting out sooner. A few days later they were back. The rest of us just sat around waiting for our names to be called. It didn’t take long for strangers from all over the world to become friends.

Now with a volcanic ash cloud over Iceland shutting down European air space, thousands of passengers are stranded at airports around the world. With so many passengers spending time together, I can’t help but wonder if any love connections have formed over the last few days. What can I say, I’m romantic like that. Put a group of people together, throw in a natural disaster, and relationships are bound to form. And with all that time just hanging around airport hotels with nothing to do but, well, ya know, babies are bound to be born nine months later. Don’t ya think?

Remember the 2003 New York City blackout? I wanted to know if it resulted in a rise in births. So I did a little research and found out that the baby boom theory after a disruptive event is an urban legend. Isolated events like blackouts, and I’m going to assume erupting volcanos, do not cause babies to be born. It’s a misconception that people use their downtime to, well, ya know, get busy. Apparently that is the last thing on their mind. Don’t know why. I guess they’re just a little too busy waiting to board a flight that isn’t going to leave for days than to get jiggy with it. So what does cause a baby boom? According to Judith Nolte of “American Baby” magazine in an article written in 2003, the only thing that will create a baby boom is a surging number of women who are fertile. Like we didn’t know that.

I don’t care what the scientists and baby experts say, I predict there will be quite a few babies born as a direct result of Eyafjallajokul erupting. So what do you say we help name all those little volcano babies? After I sent out a tweet asking for a few suggestions, the names came pouring in. Valen, one of the more interesting ones, came from Infobitsystems. It’s a variant of Valentinus; the name of more than fifty saints and three Roman emperors. Now that’s a powerful name! NavyAirCrewman came up with Pele for a girl (Hawaiian volcano goddess) and Hephaistos for a boy (Greek god of fire). Now it’s up to you to decide.



Photo courtesy of OMI

Canceled flight equals missed meeting after hours of waiting

Checking a flight schedule the night before a flight and finding out it’s a go doesn’t mean it’s a go–not if you happen to be going on United Airlines from Columbus to Chicago. At least, not if you are the person I met yesterday at the Inn at Cedar Falls in Hocking Hills, Ohio. I was able to meet him because he was not at the business meeting that he was scheduled to attend.

Friday night, he checked his flight status. Everything was fine. He checked the status again before he left for the airport the next morning. The flight was still fine. At the airport, two hours later, he found out after the drive from Hocking Hills, that the flight was canceled, and he was rebooked on a flight for an hour after that. Then, that flight was delayed because of some plane trouble. It was unclear how long he would have to wait. As he sat in the Columbus airport waiting and waiting, the business meeting started and he decided not to go after all. What was the point?

United extended his ticket so he can go to Chicago another time. He doesn’t necessarily want to go to Chicago another time. I forgot to tell him that Chicago is one of the top 10 summer destinations which might have changed his mind.

During this conversation, as the details unfolded, people were tsk tsking over the state of the airlines.

I’m thinking that in the future, more and more business meetings will be held in cyberspace as the airlines struggle to deliver service. If people can talk to each other in video conference calls, why hassle with trying to meet in person for a meeting, unless it’s crucial?

Travel Woes: Avoid Connecting Flights

A friend of mine and a serious global traveler had the trip that almost turned her off air travel all together–and she’s a former pilot.

These are the details that I remember from what she recently told me about her return trip from Iceland to Columbus, Ohio. Her nightmare started at JFK airport.

Thunderstorms had paralyzed flights, thus hers to Columbus was canceled. But, feeling optimistic , she thought she might be able to hook up with a Jet Blue flight and headed to the Jet Blue terminal. No luck there either. In her quest for a flight, she left the security area of her terminal and couldn’t get back in. Then she looked for another terminal where she could park herself for the night since all airport hotels were booked. No such luck there either. That one closed for cleaning and she was kicked out to the curb again. After another bout of terminal hopping, she found a chair where she could settle in for the rest of the night.

The next day she was able to book a hotel room since finding a flight wasn’t happening. Booked solid. She arrived in Columbus on Friday, almost two days after she was supposed to have arrived.

At 4 AM Saturday morning she received a call from the luggage courier who couldn’t find her house. Before dawn she was reunited with her belongings.

If you haven’t noticed, she didn’t get any help from the airline except for the rebooking of her flight on the next available flight two days later. The airline wasn’t obligated to do more. The delay was caused by weather.

The flights were full because all flights are full these days. In her words, this summer is a mess. If one thing goes wrong, the whole system slides into chaos.

She also didn’t have a cell phone. Since she was traveling internationally, she left hers at home. Also, there wasn’t any information to be found on where to get hotels outside of the airport.

Her bit of advice after this fiasco was, whenever possible, fly direct and fly early in the day. Connections mean trouble and flying late in the day means there is no wiggle room when flights get delayed. Here is an article by Sharyn Alden that gives some other tips for avoiding air travel woes.