No matter how great your holiday, it will end on a sour note if your flight home is delayed for hours.
But if you’ve taken out travel insurance, at least you’ll know that you can claim compensation for the disruption the delay caused.
Or will you? One Moneywise reader who endured a delay of 20 hours while trying to get home from a holiday earlier this year, was let down by his insurer and airline.
AP of London told me: “My girlfriend and I attended a wedding in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. On the return flight, we were delayed by over 20 hours as the pilot had phoned in sick.
“As flight operator Thomas Cook did not have any more pilots, we were moved to a hotel for an overnight stay prior to departure the following afternoon. We were not offered alternative flights.”
What a pain. But AP had spent cash on the Gold Select Travel Insurance Policy, sold by Coverwise and underwritten by Axa Insurance. The policy is not the best travel insurance offered through Coverwise –that’s its Platinum package – but it’s better than the firm’s Standard, Bronze and Silver packages. In other words, it should be pretty good.
That’s what AP thought when he made a claim for travel delay. So he was surprised when Axa rejected his claim. “How can a flight be delayed by over 20 hours and the travel insurer not provide a delay payout?” he asked.
Axa was very helpful with providing an answer. “It appears the delay you experienced falls outside of the policy terms and conditions,” it told AP.
Axa continued: “You can only claim for flight delay as a result of strike or industrial action or adverse weather conditions or mechanical breakdown or a technical fault occurring in the public transport on which you are booked to travel.”
In other words, the travel cover AP had sensibly splashed out on was useless when it came to travel delays.
I’ve had a close look at the terms and conditions in Axa’s 54-page policy document, which has a staggering 26,633 words. That’s almost the same length as Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and is only 3,000 words short of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The former tells the tale of predatory sharks while the latter reports on powerful pigs, which is no reflection on Axa or Thomas Cook.
The normal advice with any kind of insurance is to read the small print. But a company expecting customers to read all that small print is off their rocker. I certainly wouldn’t and AP didn’t. In fact, AP contends that the policy wording is unclear, and I agree. The wording seems to suggest that the exclusions only apply to cancellation, but Axa dismissed this, saying that they applied to flight delay too.
I appealed to Axa’s sense of fair play, but it refused to payout anything to AP and also rejected my request to alter the policy terms and conditions to make them fairer for travellers.
An Axa spokesperson told me: “Travel insurance offers a great deal of protection for a very low premium and, like all insurance products, there are exclusions. There is simply no way to cover everything and keep insurance affordable.
“Axa’s stance on this matter is in line with industry standards because, if delays are caused by the illness of flight crew, the traveller should approach the airline for compensation.”
Having spoken to other insurers, it seems they have similar exclusions. In short, they rely on airlines to offer compensation for flight delay.
There is compensation available for flight delay under EU law. However, it is not payable in the case of an “extraordinary circumstance”.
Extraordinary circumstances include war or civil unrest, security issues, natural disasters, weather conditions, air traffic control restrictions, strikes by airport staff, a medical emergency on board, and some crew issues.
Thomas Cook refused AP’s claim on the ground of “medical emergency”.
He rejects this. “My argument is that this was not a medical emergency. It was a staffing issue. The new pilot for the returning flight even stated that the pilot phoned in sick due to a food-related illness over two hours before departure.”
He has decided to fight on for compensation. He has complained to Coverwise about the wording in its policy document and he’s taking his case against Thomas Cook to the airline’s dispute resolution body.
“Staff not showing for work is the airline’s issue, so I believe under EU rules we are entitled to ¤600 each,” AP says. I reckon he’s got a strong case.
If you have similar difficulties with delays and cancellations, you can find out what to do in our feature Let down by an airline? Don't take flight, fight back against delays and cancellations or visit the Civil Aviation authority’s website, Caa.co.uk.
OUTCOME: Insurer and flight operator refuse to play ball.
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