How do known events affect your travel insurance?

In September 2017, Mt Agung in Bali, which had been sleeping since 1963, grumbled back to life. Although it settled down again briefly in October, it entered a much more active phase towards the end of November. The subsequent large eruption plume filled the air with ash, closing Bali airport for the best part of three days and stranding up to 60,000 passengers. As tourists scrambled to find other ways to get back home, many of them discovered that their travel insurance would not cover their extra costs. Why? Because the eruption of Mt Agung was a ‘known event’.

Travel insurance is designed to protect you from financial loss caused by unforeseen events. Unfortunately, many of the tourists who were stuck in Bali in November purchased their insurance policies after Mt Agung first began to show signs of an impending eruption. As a result, several insurance companies had already issued a notification that they were excluding it from their cover. Whether travellers were able to claim for their volcano-related extra costs depended on the date they had purchased their policy, and whether their insurer had formally excluded Mt Agung at that time.

What constitutes a known event?

Basically, it’s anything that has the potential to affect your travel that you are aware of when you purchase your travel insurance policy. Here are some examples:

Airline strikes:

Usually industrial action is notified weeks in advance. When Air France announced a pilots’ strike in 2014, insurers immediately stopped offering cover for travel delays caused by that strike.

Natural disasters:

Volcanoes like Mt Agung, and Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull, which caused air travel chaos in 2011, are well-known for disrupting travel plans. Hurricanes can also close airports and divert planes. As they are often predicted up to a week in advance, many insurers will issue a known event exclusion as soon as a storm is named. If an area has recently experienced a large earthquake, the risk of aftershocks may also be classed as a known event.

Civil wars:

Any area of the world that is in political turmoil is likely to be subject to numerous travel warnings, and coverage for travellers to those regions excluded from insurance policies.

Infrastructure failures:

The ruptured pipeline that cut the aviation fuel supply to Auckland airport in September 2017 disrupted many traveller’s plans when flights were cancelled or diverted. As soon as the incident was announced, it became a known event.

To be sure that your travel insurance will cover you on your next trip, it’s important to do two things:

1) Check with your insurer if there are any known events in the region that you’re travelling to, and how they might affect your cover.

2) Buy your travel insurance at the same time you book your flights and accommodation. That way, if a known event arises between the time you book and the time you travel, you’ll be covered.