By Lorna Tan
Many people tend to see travel insurance as an unnecessary extra cost but I tend to be more diligent than most in buying a policy before I set off.
My faith in travel insurance was cemented last year when my Singapore Airlines flight from New York on July 25 was cancelled and I didn’t reach Singapore until three days later.
With rising affluence and thanks to budget airlines, more people have taken to the skies and we are also travelling more frequently. This makes it important for us to know our rights when it comes to air travel and what we can do to pass some of the risks to insurers.
Being stuck in a foreign country involuntarily is usually an unpleasant affair requiring a high dose of patience, and my experience was no different.
But with travel insurance, I have peace of mind knowing that I would likely be able to get some form of compensation for my time lost, even if the airline doesn’t compensate me for the delay, which happened in my case.
Still, it is prudent to check your policy wording as there are certain criteria to be met for any compensation to be given.
Some of us may not be aware that there are certain circumstances that give rise to flight delays where the airlines would not provide compensation for.
On a brighter note, food and accommodation costs are exceptions which the airlines would typically reimburse, so keep your receipts for your claims.
More about my trip. I was booked to travel on SQ25, which was scheduled to depart New York at 8.55pm on July 25 last year and arrive in Singapore at 6.50am on July 27. Flight SQ25 was grounded and subsequently cancelled.
After staying overnight in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in New Jersey – at the expense of SQ, which took us there by bus – my fellow passengers and I were re-booked on different flights out of New York the next day.
I was re-booked to travel on Cathay Pacific, which departed at 11.36pm on July 26 from New York and arrived in Hong Kong at 6.03am on July 28. I caught a connecting flight, which departed from Hong Kong at 8.52am and arrived here at 11.53am on July 28.
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Singapore Airlines subsequently followed up with an official letter in mid-August documenting my “flight disruption”. It stated that the sole purpose of the letter was to assist me in filing any insurance claims related to the disruption.
Not contented, I wrote in for compensation for time lost, which included having to take an additional day of leave off work.
However, Singapore Airlines stuck to its grounds that it was not obligated to provide compensation for time lost in my case. However, it was willing to reimburse my food and beverage claims.
In its e-mail response, Singapore Airlines clarified that the flight disruption was due to “inclement weather resulting in the aircraft on ground being struck by lightning”.
It stated: “Weather phenomena such as lightning strikes are beyond the sphere of responsibility of an airline and hence an airline is not obliged to pay compensation if a cancellation or delay is caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.
“There were no measures available for us to avoid the extraordinary circumstance, thus the lightning strike.”
Eventually, my compensation for the delay came from my Elite travel insurance plan with Sompo.
Related: How to buy travel insurance
Fortunately, my circumstances for the flight disruption satisfied two of the four conditions for claiming under travel delay which include strikes, adverse weather conditions, natural disasters or mechanical breakdowns.
With the official letter from Singapore Airlines, I filed a claim on Aug 16 with Sompo and received the claim cheque for $425 a week later. This was calculated based on a flight delay of 26 hours, under the formula of $100 for first full six hours and $65 per full four hours of delay overseas.
My colleague was not so fortunate in his attempt to claim compensation from his insurer.
He was scheduled to fly on Nov 25 from Paris to Frankfurt to catch another flight to Singapore.
The first flight was cancelled due to a strike. As he had to be back here to attend a seminar, he bought another air ticket for $600 to fly him from Paris to Frankfurt to catch the connecting flight to Singapore.
To his dismay, his insurer declined to reimburse him for the air ticket from Paris to Frankfurt as his policy did not have a provision for expenses incurred for the alternative ticket.
The insurer explained that the policy would have provided for a fixed payout if he had stayed on to wait for the next available Lufthansa flight, which is $100 for every six consecutive hours of delay.
The new Lufthansa flight would have been 13 hours and 15 minutes later than the original flight.
Still, as a form of goodwill, the insurer offered my colleague a settlement of $200. My colleague also managed to get a goodwill settlement of $350 from Lufthansa for the unused ticket.
So do take heed that if you have forked out a sum for your vacation and you head off without travel cover, your dream holiday could turn into a nightmare should something unexpected happen.
Such circumstances could include falling sick abroad, delayed flights, a last-minute trip cancellation and baggage theft.
My experience and that of my colleague also show that buying travel insurance is just one step.
Understanding what your cover entails and that insurers provide different levels of benefits are another.
So be well insured to minimise your financial losses and know what you are covered for.
Lorna Tan is an Invest Editor/Senior Correspondent at The Straits Times
A version of this article first appeared in The Straits Times