Peter finally made it back home after being stranded in the UK last week.
While broadcasting his radio show from New York City, Peter chatted with AirfareWatchdog.com founder George Hobica about the lingering effects of the Iceland volcano ash on travel, tourism and insurance policies as well as what some airlines are doing to help (and which airlines aren’t lifting a finger, like Ryanair).
Plus, find out exactly how Peter succeeded on completing his long journey back home.
Peter Greenberg: The biggest question that comes out in a situation like the volcanic ash is, does air insurance, travel insurance, trip cancellation and interruption insurance cover you?
GH: In some cases it probably will, but it depends on your policy. Of course, there are these “cancel for any reason” policies in which you have the option to say, “I don’t want to go.” They’re more expensive, and those generally apply when you’re about to leave. But what if you’re stuck?
GH: The policies might cover you for cancellation, but I was looking at one Travel Guard policy that was considered to be pretty good. It offered $150 a day to a maximum of $750. That’s not going to go very far.
PG: No, it’s not. Insurance is not just covering you for the cost of your airplane ticket because in many cases your airline will accommodate you. Most of the airlines in this situation have been reasonably decent in terms of waving any change fees, penalties, re-booking fees, or upping the fares if you already had to an existing reservation. If you had to buy a new reservation, and a new booking, that’s another story. So a lot of travel insurance really wouldn’t kick in there because your stuff is going to be covered by the airline.
Learn more: Travel Insurance Limits & the Iceland Volcano.
GH: Right, but if you’re going on a cruise and you miss it, then you’re really out of luck. The cruise line is saying, “That’s not our problem.” Let’s say you’re taking a European cruise, and the airline refunds your fare, but you lose your entire cruise fare money.
PG: You’re right about that. My advice is never, never buy travel insurance from the travel provider themselves. You want to buy it from a third party because if, for any reason, the travel provider goes out of business, so does that insurance. And make sure that third-party coverage doesn’t list “travel provider bankruptcy” as an exclusion.
GH: Absolutely. It’s much better to get it from a third party.
PG: If you’re going to buy your airfare separately, you better have trip cancellation and interruption insurance, because if you miss the boat, guess what folks? You’ve missed the boat and you’ve missed the cruise.
Learn more: The Top 10 Reasons for Travel Insurance.
GH: Insure anything that you can’t afford to lose. If it’s just a small amount, maybe don’t bother with insurance. But if you’re really going to feel it you should definitely insure it.
PG: And insure anything you can’t control.
GH: Absolutely. It is interesting you mentioned a couple of airlines are stepping up to the plate. Emirates put up 6,000 people in Dubai at the cost of a million dollars a day. I think some of the other airlines said, no way. Ryanair, apparently, is not going to do anything for anybody
PG: Why would today be any different from any other day for Ryanair?
GH: Exactly, the airline that charges you to pee is not going to do anything if you get delayed.
Learn more: Ryanair Contemplating Charge for Using the Bathroom.
PG: Ryanair’s motto is “We’re not happy till you’re not happy,” so I’m not expecting anything from them. I think one of the reasons Emirates did that is they knew they had all those people there, essentially as hostages. Why not let them discover the wonderfulness of Dubai?
PG: That’s right, if the people couldn’t get into the hotels, you might as well let them stay in the rooms they have.
GH: One interesting question is, are people going to not go to Europe? At this point, people haven’t left already, but they are thinking about it. Fares are higher, much higher than last summer. Are they going to say, I don’t want to take a chance. You can’t get insurance for the volcano now since that house is already on fire.
PG: You’re absolutely right. Once they’ve named the volcano, the books are closed. I’ve noticed a number of people starting to investigate cruises. There are a number of repositioning cruises that are happening now, especially in May and June as they are taking ships out of the Caribbean and moving them over to the Mediterranean. Or they’re taking them out of the Caribbean and moving them up to Alaska. And a lot of people are saying, “You know what? I’ll just take the cruise.”
Learn more in our Natural Disasters & Travel section.
GH: Absolutely, if you really want to get there and you have the time, The Queen Mary 2 is a great way to cross the Atlantic. The thing is they’re taking waiting lists only for many of their cruises this spring and summer.
PG: We checked the Queen Mary and there was a 500-person waiting list for a transatlantic crossing happening in April. Now George, I don’t know about you, but I have never seen a transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2 or the Queen Elizabeth 2 that was ever oversold in April.
GH: No, it can be quite a bumpy ride.
PG: That would be an understatement. The North Atlantic in April or October is not really where you want to be.
GH: It’s amazing, but honestly, they don’t charge for luggage, so you’re saving money there. Some of the fares were only about $900.
PG: But there is such limited capacity on transatlantic crossings that the cruise lines really are not a viable alternative for people anymore.
Learn more in our Cruises & Cruise Travel section.
GH: I think if you’ve planned it early enough they might have been. But, you know, people probably will stay home. We’re actually doing a poll on AirfareWatchdog to figure out how many people thinking of going to Europe this summer have changed their plans.
So far, 15 percent are saying they’ve changed their plans. Which isn’t a lot, but if for someone who is risk adverse, which I am, I don’t think I’d go. I was supposed to go to London on Thursday and I lost one night hotel reservation. I was going to fly on British Airways, and they kept saying, we’re going to go, we’re going to go … and then we didn’t go.
PG: All right. Now what happened with your fare?
GH: The airlines are refunding the fares, absolutely.
More air travel news in our Airports & Airlines section.
PG: Well I was supposed to fly from London to Dallas, and then Dallas to Austin, and then Austin back to New York.
Obviously my flight was canceled on Sunday and it was canceled again on Monday. Austin was then off the table because my meeting was no longer going to happen. But I needed to get back to the States. So I was going to take a 19-hour bus ride from London to Madrid. And then my ticket was then changed to a Madrid – Miami – LaGuardia ticket and I had to pay an additional fare.
And then, of course, at the last minute I never even used that ticket because all those flights were canceled. I ended up jumping on a British Airways flight instead of the American Airlines flight.
So I went back to American Airlines, and guess what? They’re not going to refund it, but they’re going to issue me a voucher for all the unused money. I had split the ticket in the middle because I had already come over to London to begin with. So at least I’ll get that credit toward a future ticket.
GH: I think they’ve really stepped up to the plate most of the airlines. Although I saw a lot of people sleeping on the airport floors. I don’t know what that was about, here in New York and JFK, if there weren’t any hotels or the airlines were not covering.
PG: The airlines were not covering, no, because the airlines were saying at that point
it was an act of God. The cancellation of the flight was not caused by them.
GH: What if you say you don’t believe in God?
PG: George, now you’ve opened up a very interesting door. The atheist exclusionary note from the insurance company … Bottom line, you’re not going to Europe this week, I’m home this week. We can all be thankful for the fact that things are starting to get back to normal. But the most important thing for me is it was a wake-up call for people about the power and the economic impact of travel and tourism.
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