Dean intended to travel to London in 2017. Dean had two connecting flights to get to his final destination. The first in Qatar and the second in the United Arab Emirates (“UAE”). Dean arrived in Qatar and was due to fly out the next day. Dean had purchased basic travel insurance.
Unfortunately, the flight from Qatar to UAE was cancelled due to rising tensions between the two countries. Qatar Airways cancelled the flights as it was not permitted to fly into the UAE. Dean attempted to call the insurer but mistakenly thought he could only do so in New Zealand. Dean asked his partner’s parents to talk to the Insurer on that mistaken basis.
The insurer spoke to the parents. the parents advised that their daughter (Dean’s partner) was waiting to hear back from the insurer about buying new flights to ensure Dean could catch his connecting flight. On that basis the insurer attempted to contact Dean without success.
Dean, however, had already purchased further flights to get to London. Dean retuned to New Zealand in June 2018. In September 2018 Dean complained to FSCL on the basis that his claim to the insurer was rejected.
Dean argued that his claim was covered in two ways:
- that the insurer’s staff member had told his parents that he would be covered and would be reimbursed for the extra cost and
- that the insurer would assist Dean in obtaining a refund from Qatar Airways.
The insurer relied on the insurance policy wording which had specific exclusions for the secondary flights claimed for, and the primary flights which were cancelled. The policy excluded cover for any flights cancelled by “Government Action: government regulation, prohibition and restriction”. In this case, the flight was cancelled as the UAE prohibited any flights coming from Qatar.
We reviewed the relevant policy wording and the transcript between the insurer and Dean’s parents. We found that there was a mistake of fact and that Dean could have called the insurer. Secondly, the insurer’s staff member did not definitively say that a claim would be accepted.
As the policy is the contract between Dean and the insurer, we have to apply the policy terms.
Throughout the complaint, the insurer stated to Dean that he could claim a refund directly from the airline company. It had been widely publicised that the airline company would offer full refunds to those affected by the Government issues. Had Dean followed the process he could have recovered his financial loss.
We did not hear from Dean after our decision and assumed he accepted our view.
Insights for consumers
Travel insurance is a specific contract with exclusions and exemptions. Before buying a travel policy you need to carefully review all the exclusions. If an airline company is offering refunds for any unexpected travel disruption, take advantage of this, especially where the airline will only refund to customers directly. Do not assume your insurance company will undertake this for you.