Sunday, December 30, 2007


Foiled by Fine Print

Eileen McGarry and her family were in the middle of their vacation on Grand Cayman in August when reports came in that Hurricane Dean was barreling toward them. They were ordered to evacuate their lodging amid news of impending disaster.

Tourists clogged the airport on Aug. 17, seeking to escape. The McGarrys' carrier, Delta, had no available seats. Cayman Airways added flights to get people to Miami. The McGarrys, a family of four from Fairfax Station, paid Cayman Airways $1,100 for one-way tickets. From there, after some wrangling, Delta agreed to fly them the rest of the way home without charge. The island was spared a direct hit, but the McGarrys avoided 60-mph winds, 16-foot waves and a stay in a shelter.

Luckily, they had bought a travel insurance policy that promised benefits for trips interrupted or delayed by seven causes, including "bad weather resulting in the complete cessation of services by the airline." That contingency occurred after the McGarrys' departure.

Unluckily, they've been fighting Access America since August, and their last resort -- CoGo -- couldn't move the travel insurance company either. Why can't the McGarry family recoup their losses?

"Because they left before an interruption in service. The coverage was not triggered because they were already gone," said Mark Cipolletti, vice president of Access America. He added that the company does not sell policies that cover the McGarry situation.

But Dan McGinnity, vice president of AIG Travel Guard, said several companies, "including ours," sell policies that would have covered the McGarrys. Look for one that promises coverage if your lodging is uninhabitable. "If a named storm is expected and has a time frame, and the property at which the policyholder is staying is recommending or ordering an evacuation, you should be covered under the definition of your lodging becoming uninhabitable," said McGinnity, who is also co-chairman of the communications committee for the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, a trade group.

CoGo's advice, as always: Read the fine print before you buy. And read insurance policies with the narrowest interpretation possible, or prepare to ride out a storm.


Airlines to Passengers: Sit Tight

Things are looking up for the airline industry , but the improvement comes, in part at least, at the expense of passenger comfort .

The industry seems to be recovering from a period of decline that "produced an astounding 22 airline bankruptcy filings," says a report by IBISWorld, a business research firm. One of the strategies producing a better bottom line: keeping planes full.

The report noted that in the past five years, passenger counts increased by nearly 20 percent while seat counts increased only 9.5 percent.

In case you hadn't noticed, "Reductions in national carrier capacity and the increasing deployment of smaller regional jets put most passengers in a squeeze . More-crowded planes not only restrict legroom, [they help] increase fares." Given that the strategy has been a winner for airlines, CoGo isn't expecting it to change.


Strikes threaten to close seven British airports, including London's Heathrow and Gatwick, on Jan. 7 and 14 for 24 hours, and for 48 hours beginning the morning of Jan. 17. Airport officials are continuing to meet with union officials and hope to avert the work stoppage. Other airports potentially affected: Stansted, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Southampton. Details: . . . Meanwhile, a new shuttle service, National Express Dot2Dot, will carry you between Heathrow and Gatwick and to 700 London hotels for less than half the price of a cab. Details: . . . Passengers on Maxjet, the premium- class airline that filed for bankruptcy last week, are instructed to seek refunds from their travel agent or credit card provider. Details: 866-837-9880, . . . Quebec City kicks off its 400th anniversary celebration Monday and plans special events through Oct. 19. Find activities at

Reporting: Cindy Loose

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