With European air space closed for six days in April and 100,000 flights cancelled due to the volcanic eruptions of Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull, many Canadians found themselves either stranded overseas or obliged to cancel their upcoming vacations.
While the Canadian travel insurance industry does not track and share loss statistics, Martha Turnbull, President of The Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada (THIA) and Director, Assistance and Claims at RBC Insurance, categorized the eruptions as "a rather large event" comparable to the closure of North American airspace following 911 or to the H1N1 outbreak which resulted in a travel advisory against Mexico at the end of last year.
One insurance brokerage who did not want to be named for competitive reasons told The Insurance and Investment Journal that claims averaged $2200 for its 350 clients whose vacations were affected by the volcanic eruption. About 70% of those claims were for trip interruption and another 30% for trip cancellation.
Ms. Turnbull says that as for those travellers who did not take out travel coverage, many of them ended up in a situation of self-insuring their travel losses.
Ms. Turnbull believes that the Canadian travel industry "really stepped up to the plate" during this travel crisis, by getting together to issue a press release during the crisis to provide information to travellers impacted by the event.
Emmanuel Reinaud, Vice President, Marketing of Quebec-based etfs Travel & Healthcare Solutions points out that the situation could have been much more serious for the industry had the eruption occurred in the summer months during peak travel season. "We were lucky with the timing."
Mr. Reinaud adds that events such as this eruption have a positive side. "I think it shows the value of travel insurance, especially trip interruption and trip cancellation. Those who didn't have it are out of pocket."
According to THIA, most Canadian travel insurers considered the disruption to travel resulting from the volcanic eruptions as a covered event if the insurance was purchased prior to the start of the volcano eruption.
In addition, if travellers were stranded beyond the expiration dates of their policies, coverage was most often extended until the insured traveller was able to return home.
Clients with trip interruption coverage, who were travelling in areas affected by the volcanic eruptions, had limited coverage under most policies for additional accommodation, costs to contact the insurer or assistance company, and meal expenses if they were unable to return to Canada as planned. Some coverages reimbursed the cost of alternate travel arrangements where available.