Travel insurers received a number of inquiries last month
from people concerned about the impact of the government shutdown on their
travel plans, both from travelers worried about airport-related delays and from
federal employees seeking to cancel or postpone a trip.
The volume led some to predict that insurers will look to
incorporate coverage for travelers impacted by future shutdowns.
"We have received a huge influx of calls from customers
who are concerned with safety and delay specifically relating to the government
shutdown," said Jenna Hummer, director of public relations for
insurance-comparison site Squaremouth.
Travelinsurance.com also received a flurry of calls for a
brief period during the shutdown, said the site's co-founder Stan Sandberg.
"Most travel insurance plans will provide coverage for
an unannounced strike that impacts the ability to travel," Sandberg said,
citing a pilot strike as an example. "Those things are typically a covered
reason. But [the shutdown] isn't a strike. It's a different animal."
Sandberg said the only way an affected federal employee
could have canceled a trip would have been if they had purchased cancel-for-any-reason
insurance, which comes with a strict set of guidelines. For example, it must be
purchased within a specific time frame, usually within 21 days of making the
first deposit on a trip.
According to Daniel Durazo, Allianz's director of communications,
424 shutdown-related claims were filed. Of those, the vast majority were for
trip cancellation, with a handful for trip interruption and four for missed
connections. Twenty-one delay claims were filed after customers were negatively
affected by delayed TSA security screening.
"Our claims data suggests that the largest impact of
the shutdown was on travelers who had been furloughed from their positions as
government employees or contractors," Durazo said.
By comparison, the California wildfires in November resulted
in 479 claims. The most event-related claims that Allianz saw in 2018 were
4,967 filed as a result of Hurricane Florence, which wreaked havoc in the
Carolinas in September.
Durazo said Allianz policies do have benefits that could help
travelers in a shutdown scenario. For example, a missed flight or connection
because of "significant delays" in security screening might result in
covered travel expenses. Furloughed employees might have been covered for
cancellation under the employer-termination benefit in an Allianz policy.
Durazo said Allianz doesn't plan to modify its coverage to
cover potential future shutdowns, but Sandberg said he believes it's a
"Maybe, over the next year, an insurance carrier will
figure out how to incorporate language that would make it either a covered
reason or provide some benefit for disruption in travel," Sandberg said.
Hummer said, "If government shutdowns become more
frequent in the future, we personally could foresee more providers including
specific clauses related to the government shutdown and seeing those included
in more standard trip cancellation policies."
A policy change is no easy feat: Changes need approval in
each state, and Hummer said it typically takes around a year to see changes
But changes do happen. Before 9/11, terrorism coverage was
not a common benefit in standard travel insurance policies, Hummer said. But
after the attacks, terrorism coverage became standard.
"That's a similar trajectory that we could see being
followed," she said. "Once a big event happens and other events
related to that continue to occur, that's when we would potentially see changes
being made to providers' policies."