Sunday, May 24, 2015

Domestic travel insurance: what is covered and what is not

I have been habitually purchasing insurance for domestic air travel with the expectation that I will be able to buy ticket for another flight on spot in case any flight gets cancelled and thereby, I hoped to prevent the entire trip getting jeopardised. I thank my stars that for all these years I never had to invoke my rights for an insurance claim, until my recent trip to Andaman in end January, 2015.

Traveling out of Delhi in peak winter season of end Dec to mid Jan, which unfortunately is also a peak tourist season, is always full of uncertainties due to fog. Both flight and train schedules go haywire as fog plays havoc across north India. To minimise possible impact of weather, I had planned my trip with return from Portblair on 17th Jan, 2015. I had booked tickets with MakeMyTrip who were offering travel insurance by Apollo Munich. It cost me around 169 per person per ticket. While travelling abroad, I had purchased insurance for a period covering my travel. But somehow domestic travel insurance is linked to a ticket, not for a period.

Apollo Munich domestic travel insurance certificate
In last few years, there has not been serious fog issue after 15th Jan. But when nature decides to play truant, you can only be mute spectator. Fog came late this year, and stayed late, well past 18th Jan, 2015. Waiting in the lounge for a whole day at Portblair airport, with bright sunshine all around, we realised that the world is so interconnected that fog in Delhi is sending flight schedule go haywire across India, even at places as remote as Portblair which probably have never seen fog. The day I landed at Portbalir, the temp was 23 or so, as against 6 degree of Delhi.

There are 3 daily flights between Portblair and Delhi via Kolkata. My ticket was with Jet Airways. Against all odds, the flights that were least expected to arrive that day, Spicejet and Go Air did landed, though quite late, and returned to Delhi or Kolkata. But the Jet Airways flight, which was the only full fare carrier, and which was most likely to arrive did not come that day leaving us all stranded at Portblair. We came to know that due to fog the flight took off quite late from Delhi as against scheduled departure of 0930 hrs. By the time it had arrived at Kolkata for stopover, it was too late for them to attempt a trip to Portblair, which is a military airport and hence night landing or take off are not allowed. The last hours by which a flight has to depart was 1630 hrs. This means the flight from Kolkata has to take off latest by 1400 hrs so that it can land by 1600 hrs and return by 1630 hrs. Apparently both the Kolkata – Portblair and Portblair-Kolkata-Delhi flight were reasonably full, and hence Jet Airways did not cancelled and dumped all passengers. Rather than refunding fares or attempting a risky trip and then getting struck at Portblair for the night, Jet Airways had arranged for an unscheduled flight next morning. The airport staff had written on ticket that due to fog delay at Delhi, flight is cancelled and passengers to report tomorrow at 7am. They had a discussion with CISF at stamped the tickets so that passengers are allowed in next day. Now came the issue of accommodation. Full fare airline is supposed to provide accommodation in case of flight cancellation and Jet Airways is one of the few remaining full fare airlines. But the shock came in the form of their declaration that accommodation is not provided in case of fog delay. We all had argued in vain. I thought that my travel insurance will come in handy for the first time. I decided to call their helpline from airport itself to find what is admissible.

Call centre line was not busy. Responding to the customer care executive’s greeting of how he might help me, I announced about my policy details and said that my flight is cancelled. The voice over responded that flight cancellation is not covered. Note this first catch - flight cancellation is not covered. Thus my very first reason for purchasing travel insurance went up in smoke. You will not be able to buy an emergency ticket in case your flight gets cancelled. So what next? I changed track, and told him that even though my flight is cancelled for the day, it is rescheduled for next day. Then the executive read out to me certain clauses of insurance I had not access to earlier. He told me that flight delay has to be more than 6 hrs, and reason for delay is either due to bad weather or technical fault with aircraft. Strike by staff not covered. I will have to obtain a travel certificate from the carrier mentioning total delay and cause of delay. Further, I was advised to retain all bills and vouchers of expenses. The maximum amount reimbursable is Rs.2000/- per person. As I have 3 tickets for the family, the potential claim amount of Rs.6000/- would be enough for one night’s additional stay in a decent hotel at Portblair. At that point we were more worried about daughter missing her unit test at school scheduled for next morning.

We reported at Portblair airport next morning and were happy to see Jet Airways staff arriving. We were relieved to be informed that aircraft had departed from Kolkata. The Jet aircraft indeed came from Kolkata in an unscheduled flight. But it was now informed that the aircraft would now ply between Portbalir and Kolkata. The Jet staff at Kolkata will arrange to send passengers to Delhi at the earliest available flight. The other option was to wait till evening for that day’s regular Delhi bound flight to arrive. The manager of Jet Airways team opined that there is no point staying stuck at Portblair. Fog was reported from Delhi on that day’s morning as well and flight had been delayed. Hence one cannot be sure of when flights from Delhi will arrive. Once you reach mainland, there will be various options for further transit. There was merit in his comment. So we boarded the flight and reached Kolkata at 1130 hrs. It was another ordeal at Kolkata as all flights were full. Finally we were handed boarding pass for a Kolkata-Delhi flight at 1830. Therefore my total delay had actually crossed more than 24 hrs.

Travel certificate by Jet Airways
After reaching Delhi, I had downloaded forms and couple of other documents from Apollo Munich’s website. The claim is to be preferred within one month.  I tediously filled up claim forms, separate forms for each one of us, claiming a total amount of Rs.6100/- as against admissibility of Rs.6000/- (@2000 per person). The travel certificate issued by Jet Airways, Portblair says that flight on 17th Jan was cancelled and passengers were rebooked on flight on 18th Jan. This along with my boarding passes covered my total delay clause. The ticket also had Jet Airways’ stamped statement that due to fog delay flight is cancelled. This covered weather delay clause. I did not want to send original bills along with my claim, and hence sent photocopies. I wanted to ensure that my claim is acknowledged first before I part with my original bills.

After about a month of preferring the claim, I had received a letter from Apollo Munich saying that they are in receipt of my claim and have provided me a claim id. They requested to submit all bills in originals within 15 days. Assured that my claim has not been put into dustbin, I sent all original bills through reputed courier so that receipt can be verified.

In another month’s time, I had received a confirmation from Apollo Munich saying that my claim had been settled for Rs.4660/- with reasons for rejecting balance amount. They did not pay cost incurred in additional to and from trip to airport. This amount was good enough as I had recovered 90% of cost I had incurred.

If you closely examine Domestic travel insurance policies, it is not difficult to understand that it actually is a medical insurance with some elements of travels fitted in. It is offered by airline or travel portal in association with an insurance company. Therefore insurance certificates are mailed to you separately after tickets are booked. For any claims, you have to deal directly with the insurance company, not the travel portal. The policy issued shows elements covered and the max amount payable against each of the clauses. But it does not say anything about situations under which you are eligible for claim. Therefore, you should visit the insurance company website for detailed clauses. Here are relevant clauses from the detailed document of my policy.

Detailed clauses-1

FIner points of detailed clauses
Going through the detailed clauses will make you understand what is covered and what is not. I would suggest to call their helpline to understand fine points. Always keep their helpline no ready. You do not know when you may need it. Insurance is meant to cover uncertainties. And, uncertainties arrive without calling. This was a good lesson in travel for me. For me it ended on a happy note. I hope that my sharing of this experience will help you stay informed to travel smart.


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