How to Buy Flight Cancellation Insurance

canceled

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.

canceled flightSay 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.

 

When Do You Really Need Travel Insurance
[Flickr photos by Scott Ableman]

Airlines WRONG: Lengthy airport delays fall to zero!

airlines wrong about airport delaysNow that the stakes are high enough to matter, airlines are finally getting their collective act together. The U.S. Department of Transportation just announced that there were no tarmac delays of loner than three hours in October for the largest airlines in the United States.

You read that right: none. And, the air transportation industry did not fall apart. It did not fail to operate. Flights took off and landed … and passengers didn’t have to spend absurd amounts breathing stale cabin air while hanging out with the hope that Godot would finally show up.

This represents a drop from 11 in October 2009. In case you were wondering if airlines canceled flights rather than risk a fine of $27,500 per passenger for airport delays, note that the cancellation rate actually fell slightly year over year.

So, how much did the rate fall?


The largest airlines canceled 0.97 percent of scheduled domestic flights in October 2010, down from 0.99 the previous year. Even if you call this no change … well, that’s the point. With the stricter rules in place, there was virtually no change in cancellations.

October 2010 was the first month there were no tarmac delays of greater than three hours since the DOT started keeping score in October 2008. And, from May to October, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there were only 12 tarmac delays of more than three hours, based on data for 18 airlines. For the same period in 2009, there were 546.

Meanwhile, on-time performance improved rather dramatically from October 2009 to 2010, from 77.3 percent to 83.8 percent. That’s off a bit from 85.1 percent in September 2010, but still an indication that the industry is getting significantly better.

Chronic delays were down as all. The DOT reports:

At the end of October, there was only one flight that was chronically delayed – more than 30 minutes late more than 50 percent of the time – for three consecutive months. There were no other flights chronically delayed for two consecutive months and no chronically delayed flights for four consecutive months or more.

Just shy of 5 percent of flight delays were caused by aviation system delays, with 5.54 percent caused by aircraft arriving late. The number of delays within the airlines’ control (e.g., because of maintenance or crew problems) increased to 4.44 percent from 3.99 percent in September.

So, where can you see the real implications of all this? Well, let’s take a look at the number of complaints about airline service. It seems the threat of heavy fines is making these companies more responsive to their customers. The 749 complaints the DOT received from passengers represents a 16.5 percent decline year over year.

I know nobody wants to admit that the system works, but I guess it made air travel a bit more tolerable.

[photo by TheeErin via Flickr]

One three-hour airline delay this summer … and the industry survived

The latest data from the Department of Transportation suggests that airlines are figuring out how to survive in a world of on-the-ground delays that can last no more than three hours. The summer travel season had only one delay that was affected by the rule. This is a 98.5 percent decline from the summer of 2009.

The airline industry mobilized, when faced with the prospect of the three-hour rule, to counter that there would be a substantial increase in canceled flights, as the threat of hefty fines would cause them to pull the plug. Yet, this hasn’t really happened either. Cancellation rates for the spring and summer were:

  • May: 1.24 percent
  • June: 1.5 percent
  • July: 1.43 percent
  • August: 1 percent

In fairness, May, June and July had cancellation rates higher this year than last, but August held steady, suggesting that it is possible to comply with the three-hour delay rule without sending cancellation rates sky-high.

According to MSNBC:

That’s an acceptable tradeoff, says DOT. “Although the rule has been in effect only a short time, we’ve seen no tangible increase in flight cancellations,” said spokeswoman Olivia Alair, “which means airlines are taking action to prevent delays without canceling flights, as some industry critics claimed they would.”

So, what were the dire consequences forecasted by the airline sector?

Those critics would no doubt include airline consultants Darryl Jenkins and Josh Marks, who published a report in July stating that the new rule would lead to an additional 5,200 cancellations per year (both directly and indirectly), at a cost to the public welfare of $3.5 to $3.9 billion over the next 20 years.

Jenkins and Marks stand by their projections, creating a situation in which the same data is leading to two perspectives. But, one thing is clear: in terms of percentage, flight cancellations have stayed consistently under the 15-year average for four consecutive months.

[photo by nafmo via Flickr]

Catfighting flight attendants put a stop to Delta Connection flight

A Delta Airlines connection flight was cancelled last Thursday, after two female flight attendants engaged in a catfight. According to the Associated Press, Rochester-to-Atlanta-bound Delta Connection Flight 887 was forced to return to the departure gate after one of the passengers fell ill. Memphis-based Pinnacle Airlines spokesman Joe Williams states that there was no physical contact between the dueling attendants, merely a “verbal disagreement.”

Passenger Steve Mazur contradicts Williams’ statement, saying that the women, “Apparently got into a fistfight. The pilot decided to kick everyone off the plane.” Fellow passenger Corey Minton adds that they were ordered to disembark because “stewardesses were fighting.”

Delta damage-controlled the situation by finding alternate travel arrangements for passengers, but likely won’t be able to erase the salacious image of flight attendants scratching one another’s eyes out. Both women have been put on leave until an internal investigation can be done. Says Williams, “The activity described is not acceptable.”

Canceled flights can get you some luxury

If you happen to be one of those unfortunate people who come up with a dud on what seems to be a new roulette style airline game called “Will My Flight be Canceled?” or even worse, “Will my Airline Shut Down Overnight?,” you can head to certain Kimpton Hotels for a gift designed especially for you–the stranded traveler.

As a way to coax stranded travelers to a Kimpton Hotel, the “Stranded in Style” promotion allows guests with a canceled flight to choose from the following options they show a canceled boarding pass or ticket:

  • Bath salts or eye mask
  • Bottle of wine or in-room movie
  • KN Karen Neuburger zebra chenille lounge socks
  • Cocktail or appetizer at adjacent restaurant

    Participating hotels include: 70 park avenue and The Muse in New York, Hotel Argonaut in San Francisco and Hotel Monaco in Denver.

    This may not be enough to turn lemons into lemonade, but it’s an interesting idea. I wonder what budget motels could come up with? Maybe you could get real Half-and-Half instead of non-dairy creamer with that complimentary cup of coffee.