Writing exclusively for ITIJ, James Sion, COO, Generali Global Assistance Travel Insurance, explains how travel insurance can help those affected by the California wildfires
The California Camp Fire, which began last Thursday, has grown explosively, creating a trail of destruction and devastation. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the Camp Fire in Butte County has now burned 125,000 acres.
The hazardous smoke from the Camp Fire completely blanketed the Bay Area, and has resulted in hundreds of flight delays, as the smoky conditions made it unsafe for departing and inbound flights. At San Francisco International Airport, the poor air quality caused about 25 per cent of flights to be delayed.
When flying to regions with catastrophes such as the Camp Fire in California, many travellers may be tempted to pre-emptively cancel a flight, thinking that their travel insurance will cover the cost of the ticket. Most basic plans have trip cancellation included, provided the policyholder is cancelling for a covered event. However, before taking action, it’s critically important that travellers fully understand how their plan defines a ‘covered event’.
Understanding the policy
For most policies, poor air quality alone is not considered a covered event. Therefore, if a traveller were to cancel a trip because of a wildfire, they would not be refunded the full price of the ticket.
With that said, travellers who purchased travel insurance do have options.
before taking action, it’s critically important that travellers fully understand how their plan defines a ‘covered event’
Travel insurance can help travellers impacted by a wildfire if their reservation was cancelled by a third party such as an airline or hotel. A traveller flying to an area affected by a wildfire can seek reimbursement by filing a claim with their travel insurance provider if the hotel they booked is considered uninhabitable. Additionally, if they are already at their destination and a wildfire causes their location to be evacuated, travel insurance can be used to cancel the trip and return home early at no cost. Alternatively, if they are travelling and their home is damaged by a wildfire in their area, many travel insurance policies will refund the trip costs for them to return home. The home, however, must be rendered uninhabitable for a traveller to be reimbursed.
Travellers should always be aware of the possibility that their plans could be derailed by unforeseen events. As such, travel insurance should always be viewed as a guard against unexpected problems. It is important to note that once something becomes a foreseeable event—for example, when a hurricane is named—it’s too late to purchase coverage. For this reason, it is always preferred to purchase travel insurance when the trip is booked.
As always, consumers should carefully read their policies once they buy insurance to make sure it covers their potential needs. We also highly encourage travellers to contact their insurance provider directly if they have any questions about what their policy might, or might not, cover. Issues that impact travel are often unavoidable, but paying for them doesn’t have to be.