Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Insurance questions in wake of passenger's emergency

Insurance questions in wake of passenger's emergency

By Tom Stieghorst
*InsightCan you insure something that’s worth nothing?

That’s one of the questions raised by the unfortunate case of Dodge Melkonian, the passenger who broke his hip in the middle of the night on an Azamara Club cruise and was disembarked to the nearest hospital in a small town along the Black Sea coast of Turkey.

Physicians at the hospital didn’t speak English and weren’t equipped to perform the surgery Melkonian needed.

Fortunately, he had an active and concerned travel agent, Tammy Levent, CEO of Elite Travel Management Group, at his service.

One of her first tasks was to get Melkonian transferred to a better-equipped hospital in Ankara, six hours away. But the travel insurer balked at some of the transportation arrangements, leading to a delay before it finally provided an ambulance.

Levent said the insurer also required Melkonian to pay his expenses upfront and then get reimbursed. “Who does that?” Levent said.

The travel insurer, On Call International, was supplied by Azamara. Levent said she would have preferred to have Melkonian insured by a third party, but there was a special circumstance.
The cruise he was on was a makeup cruise for an Azamara Quest sailing in March that was disabled by a fire near the Philippines. Melkonian technically didn’t pay anything for the complimentary cruise, raising the question of whether something of no value can be insured.

“We always seek third-party insurance,” Levent said. “We didn’t have a choice here.” In the future,  “we have to find a way of getting supplemental insurance,” she said.

Other travel agents said companies such as Travel Guard International will write policies on complimentary cruises, even though there is no ticket price to establish a value.

Lori Whitt, a spokeswoman for Travel Guard, confirmed that it sells policies on “the entire range of trip costs, down to zero.” That accommodates not only complimentary cruises, but incentive awards or cruises acquired with reward points.

Clients usually aren’t interested in cancellation coverage but in the other hazards such as interruptions, delays or medical emergencies. She said that even free cruises sometimes have costs associated with air transport or other incidentals. Anything that is prepaid or nonrefundable can potentially be insured, she said.

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