Try Travel Insurance to Cure Airline Turbulence

An outbreak of strikes and walkouts by European air traffic controllers this past week warns of a potentially chaotic summer for American and Canadian vacationers heading overseas. It also emphasizes the need for trip cancellation/interruption insurance and delay benefits.

On June 24, French air traffic controllers went on strike to protest government cuts to planned modernization of existing traffic control and monitoring systems. The strikes were supposed to last six days, but were suddenly called off on June 26 after Air Traffic Control (ATC) unions met with the government and received acknowledgement of their concerns.

The work stoppages, though short-lived, resulted in hundreds of cancelled or delayed flights throughout Europe and thousands of stranded travellers, unaware of when or how they might get to their vacation destinations.

Related: Travel Mix-Ups: Lessons from Gerrit, Maureen, and Dave

In Britain alone, more than 400 flights were cancelled on June 25. But just as the ATC unions in France announced termination of their strike, Belgian air traffic controllers began a series of two-hour walkouts to press their case for modernization.

Coincidentally, aviation unions in Athens warned of the possibility of a 48-hour work stoppage from June 30 to July 1. They too are pressing their demand for more state funding for their sector of the aviation industry. And aviation unions in Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia threatened strikes in support of the mechanics at LAN and flight attendants at TAM airlines.

Needless to say, it was travellers—spending part of their holidays in cramped and uncomfortable conditions—who suffered most. And though stranded passengers may have recourse to airline reimbursement for cancelled or seriously delayed flights, they might not be covered for hotels, meals, taxis, or other incidentals that can result from disrupted flights or missed connections.

Trip cancellation/interruption insurance might well provide a safety net for those unplanned costs. But there are limits (usually stated in your policy) to how much insurers will pay. For example, an insurer may stipulate a per-day $300 limit for hotels, meals, and phone charges—for up to two days. So don’t go making reservations at the Ritz-Carlton without checking with your insurer’s assistance company first.

Related: Trip Cancellation Insurance Helps Tame Wild Weather

Travel insurers will only cover prepaid, non-refundable fees that other entities (e.g., airlines, resorts, hotels, cruises) will not cover. They are insurers of last resort, not first. And though they can’t replace the joy and fulfillment of one or two days (or weeks!) of a well-deserved vacation, at least they will help you cover some of the cost of an unanticipated change in your plans.

Trip cancellation/interruption insurance can help you get through the turbulence. But you need to know what it covers, what it excludes, and how to assess its value to you. There are pages of fine print to read—and I urge you to do just that.

But don’t stop there. Ask a well-qualified professional to explain trip cancellation/interruption to you in plain language. We’ve got them here on this site.

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