Many travelers felt the impact of extreme winter weather during the busy holiday travel month of December. Snow storms across the Midwest and Northeast highlighted the value of travel insurance, compensating travelers for unused vacation expenses, fare differences and additional costs incurred during delays. USA Today recently chronicled the extent of December’s flight cancellations.
The 18 largest U.S. airlines canceled nearly 19,700 flights — 3.7% of 539,340 domestic departures — for the month, according to the Transportation Department’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
When measured by rate of cancellation, the month was the second-worst December and the 15th worst month for scratching flights since the department began keeping data in 1995. In December 2009, 2.8% of flights were canceled.
JetBlue, whose hub is based at New York’s JFK, one of the hardest hit airports, posted the highest cancellation rate, with 8.5% grounded in December.
The bad weather had little effect on tarmac delays, however, as airlines sought to avoid federal fines that can be imposed when flights are left on the runway for more than three hours. Only three domestic flights were held for more than three hours, down from 34 in December 2009.
The bad weather and flight cancellations continued through the month of January, as well. Any travelers unsure of how their travel insurance policy covers them or wondering whether they can make a claim should contact the insurance carrier to see what benefits are available. The following is an overview of how travel insurance coverage can apply during weather delays.
Missed Connection – Missed connection coverage reimburses costs of catching up to the trip when an airline delay causes a traveler to miss another departure. Depending on the plan, the flight delay must be from 3 to 6 hours before coverage applies. Some plans only cover a missed cruise or tour departure, which means a missed flight departure is not covered.
Travel Delay – Travelers stuck at the airport or forced to have an unplanned overnight stay at a nearby hotel might have a travel delay claim. Travel delay reimburses expenses for food, lodging and local transportation during a delay. A delay must last for a set number of hours before coverage is available, anywhere from 5 to 24 hours.
Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption – These benefits reimburse the trip costs that go unused and are not refunded by the travel suppliers. Cancellation is before the travel begins and the entire trip is scrapped. Interruption is once the trip has started and could be a delayed departure, missed time in the middle or an early return home. Trip interruption can also reimburse the expenses of catching up to the trip, similar to missed connection. The reason for cancelling or interrupting must be one of the covered reasons listed in the policy. Many plans cover an airline delay caused by weather that lasts 48 hours, some as little as 12 hours.
It is important to compare plans closely to find the best coverage at the best value. Always refer to the certificate of insurance for details.