Can flyers delayed by inclement weather claim reimbursement for personal expenses?
Wild flight weather disruptions have inconvenienced many travelers, but they may be able to get some compensation for personal expenses.
Airlines like Air New Zealand are trying hard to get people where they need to be, but it’s a daunting task.
Around 126,000 Air New Zealand passengers had to be moved over the next three days on Thursday after strong gales canceled most flights to and from Wellington.
Chief executive Greg Foran said RNZ 181 flights were canceled on Thursday, describing the day’s events as “quite extreme”.
People with non-emergency travel needs have been urged to consider taking credit for a future flight instead.
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* Air New Zealand customers with travel insurance may be reimbursed for cancellations
No one compensates travelers for dissatisfaction or, in insurers’ jargon, “loss of fun”, but travel delays can incur expenses, such as booking a hotel room for multiple nights, taxi rides and restaurant meals.
Those with travel insurance can turn to their insurers to cover their losses.
Those who don’t may find airlines willing to cover some accommodation costs, but when the cause is weather-related, this only seems to apply to a subset of travellers.
Strong winds, heavy rain and large swells Thursday afternoon around central New Zealand. Gusts reaching 120 km/h were recorded at Wellington airport.
What are airlines responsible for?
Leanne Geraghty, Air New Zealand’s chief customer and sales officer, says that when the reason for a flight cancellation is within its control, the airline offers overnight accommodation either arranged at the airport or at an agreed value, if customers wish to make their own arrangements .
However, if a flight has been canceled due to weather conditions, accommodation costs would normally be covered by the customer or their travel insurer.
However, if a traveler is halfway through their trip, at a port of call, and the next flight is disrupted, the airline does its best to arrange suitable accommodation for the night, she says.
Air NZ offers flights to get people where they need to be.
It also offers credits to travelers who might delay their trip, which they can later use to rebook a flight.
The airline’s website seems to hold out hope that airports could pay for people’s out-of-pocket expenses.
“If your flight has a serious disruption that leaves you behind, you may be able to claim emergency expenses,” it says.
“These are usually done at your airport, before you leave. Each airport has a slightly different approach, so please check their fee refund policy.
If such policies exist, they are not on airport websites and Air New Zealand has now removed the statement from its website.
Domestic travel insurance
A growing number of people are buying domestic travel insurance.
Travel insurance compensates people for the cost of flight disruption, but those costs must be ‘reasonable’.
Reasonable costs include accommodation, but this is only reasonable accommodation.
David Wallace, chief client officer at Allianz Partners, said: “People usually do what they have to do to get by.”
They were generally a good judge of what was reasonable, he said.
Emulating the behavior of young Macaulay Culkin booking a presidential suite in Home Alone 2 was unreasonable, he says.
And if a delayed traveler has doubts about the reasonableness of an expense, they can contact their insurer, he says.
Losses must be real.
Stay with friends, and you cannot claim housing, for example.
Wallace said policyholders had to pay for their own meals because they would have to eat anyway.
A canceled flight may result in non-accommodation costs covered by travel insurance.
They include costs such as extending an animal’s stay in a kennel or cattery.
Policyholders may also be able to claim the price of tickets for a prepaid event such as an expensive concert.
Sometimes people have to move quickly. Their travel insurer may cover alternative forms of travel.
“Just say you had to be home for work or college the next day, but the flight they offered you was in two days, Southern Cross would cover your reasonable extra expenses to get you home; a rental car or a flight with another airline,” says Jo McCauley, managing director of Southern Cross Travel Insurance.
The costs generated by travel disruptions can be even higher than for domestic travel.
A missed connection can mean losing a flight that costs a significant amount of money, which is one of the reasons why international travel insurance is so much more expensive than domestic travel insurance.
“International travelers are also more likely to be on a layover, which can create problems, especially when an airline may have an infrequent schedule,” McCauley says.
Travel disruptions have often led to people being temporarily separated from their luggage, she says.
And baggage delays seem to be getting more frequent, she says.
“Travel insurance is useful here to cover essential items and clothing that customers may need to access as they have been separated from their luggage.”