Short-haul or long-haul, boarding a plane to go on holiday or a business trip has become so common that we rarely think of the legal issues that may arise beyond cancellation, delays and luggage lost or damaged in transit. Same for sea-travel.

Even those who are sticklers for insurance cover rarely flit through all the details involved especially if they are long-standing customers of a specific insurance firm. They are happy with the comfort of knowing that they are protected from the moment they have clinched their booking to the moment they return home. Others take the risk and travel without any coverage whatsoever. And a risk this certainly is for no amount of problem-free trips can guarantee the outcome of subsequent travelling.

Basic travel insurance usually offers the following covers and standard benefits: 

  • Loss of baggage and money
  • The cost of purchasing emergency essential replacement items if your baggage is temporarily lost
  • Personal Accident Cover
  • Cancellation of your trip (normally a higher premium must be paid if due to extreme weather conditions or natural disasters)
  • Curtailment of your trip
  • Costs for emergency medical and associated expenses (These could include a cash contribution towards hospital expenses if you end up in a hospital overseas).
  • Personal Liability
  • Delayed and/or Missed Departure
  • Loss of Passport

Additional benefits such as rental vehicle insurance excess cover, music equipment cover, winter sports equipment related to a skiing holiday or pet cover may also be offered at a premium. Opting for a Personal Accident Insurance policy will yield even more comprehensive benefits while frequent flyers have the opportunity to go for a much more customized Annual Travel Insurance. 

There is also the concept of ‘excess waiver’ to consider. As in all types of insurance policies, travel insurance requires a traveler to take part in the claims by paying the excess, specifically, the first part of the claim. This is the fraction that you pay towards each claim's costs, subject to the maximum limits stated under each benefit. Take a case of lost baggage amounting to €600 where the maximum limit is set at €1,000 and the excess at €100.

 

As a result, you will have to pay the first €100 while the insurance company reimburses the remaining €500. Had the lost baggage exceeded €1,000, you will only get €900. Significantly, excess waiver may not be permissible for benefits which cover high risk sport or adventure travel. Millennials setting the trend for gung-ho adventurous travel please note.

Excess waiver further means that you do not have to pay an amount every time there is a claim against the travel insurance policy. The excess waiver would mean that you have to pay an additional premium amount as this really constitutes additional cover under your travel insurance policy. If you would like to lower your premium for the travel insurance, you can also have the excess increased.

Another useful tip is to check if your insurance company allows you to choose a medical excess level, or to change the excess into an amount you would like. As EU citizens, it is also a good idea to verify whether the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) can be used against the excess amount.

Taking out a travel insurance policy in Malta is subject to three conditions, namely:

  • Passengers must residents in the Maltese Islands.
  • The trip is a conventional vacation or business one.
  • Travel plans are based on a round trip beginning and ending in Malta during the period of insurance.

By default this means that a non-Maltese resident who has travelled to Malta without any travel insurance cover cannot purchase any insurance policy to cover his/her outbound flight or sea ticket irrespective of whether the home country is the destination. So imagine such a traveler who while in Malta spontaneously decided to buy something valuable to take home, he/she would have to take the risk of travelling without insurance protection.

Apart from what may be considered to be run-of-the-mill hitches, there are other possible (if rare) problems. These include: overbooking, food poisoning and food intolerance in cases of inadequately labelled meals or snacks offered during flights/voyaging at sea; or purchased at airports/sea terminals. Airlines and shipping companies have to shoulder the responsibility of food poisoning for inflight/at sea meals, whereas liability for food intolerance will depend on correct and adequate labelling of relevant ingredients as well as how careful and attentive the passenger would have been.

Despite the increased awareness of food intolerance and the now much banded lactose/gluten free advertising we need to keep in mind that rules and regulations regarding food products are not internationally standardized. And though well-established airline carriers and shipping companies are bound to take precautions, nothing should be taken for granted.

Falling victim to overbooking is another matter. In 2004 the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union passed EU Regulation 261/2004 (a.k.a. EC261). The Regulation sets common grounds for compensation and care for passengers in the event of being denied boarding when the passenger is not at fault. Air passengers can claim between €250 and €600 depending on the journey. There are however, a number of caveats which only legal advice can ensure that adequate compensation is paid out. Happily, airlines usually effect compensation there and then at the airport. But there have been exceptions and missing connection flights ups the complications

Yet another possibility is suffering preventable injury due to company negligence or certain conditions such as tightly squeezed seating or, faulty locks in the hand luggage compartments that may knock you down by an assortment of heavy bags. Nor should survivors (or surviving relatives) automatically assume recompense when plane crashes or accidents at sea lead to grievous injury or death.

Finally, it is vital for passengers to retain all documents related to their travelling (ticket, boarding pass, etc) as well as refrain from succumbing to subtle or thinly veiled coercion tactics to drop compensation claims. Once again, legal advice will save the day since seeking legal action against an airline is a costly and daunting task.

As islanders we probably rank as some of the world’s most frequent flyers. Cruising is also trending. So it makes sense to be in the know.