The recent spread of the H1N1 virus, better known as swine flu, has caused many people who travel often to worry about their health the effect this virus would have on their travel plans. When news reports of this disease were first reported, it was suggested by many television pundits that this flu could cause airports and other forms of mass transportation to shut down, stranding many travelers. After a few weeks, however, the CDC, WHO and other health organizations were able to release more information about the disease, resulting in many companies releasing policies regarding the flu and their customers who might contract it.
This leaves travelers wondering what will happen if they contract H1N1.Although policies are subject to change, every traveler should know what happens to them if they are unable to travel due to this illness.
According to CDC regulations, any passenger with swine flu cannot board a commercial airplane. Since this law covers all U.S. citizens on all domestic carriers, an airline is legally obligated to substitute your ticket for a similar ticket (same destination and arrival airports) after you receive a note from your doctor stating that you are no longer contagious. Mary Smith (name changed to protect privacy), who recently traveled from Cleveland to Richmond with her two six year old twin boys has some experience with this. While visiting her parents in Cleveland, Mary’s two sons began complaining of severe headaches and were running low-grade fevers. Concerned, Mary took the boys to the emergency room after a fever spike, where they were both diagnosed with swine flu via a blood test. Both boys received Tamiflu and have since recovered. Mary immediately contacted her airline (her family was scheduled to fly home to Richmond three days after the boys were diagnosed) and was able to receive three seats on a similar flight for the following week at no cost. She was required to show her doctor’s note at check-in, however.
Most travel insurance policies contain a provision for illness experienced either by the traveler or his or her immediate family members. In most cases, policies will cover the total value of the vacation package if the person becomes ill before the trip. Although a few companies immediately added clauses to their trip insurance stating that travelers would not be covered in the case of swine flu after initial news reports about the virus stated that it was spreading very rapidly, many of those companies have removed such policies after the initial panic has settled down.
If the swine flu should effect an area that you are traveling to in such a way that you are not allowed to enter that area, your travel insurance will usually cover the cost of that portion of the trip. For example, if the flu was to spread throughout a topical island and that area was closed to tourists, your trip insurance would cover the cost of your accommodations and the ticket to get there. An exception to this is any policy purchased through a travel company (the most common example of this is cruise insurance purchased when a cruise is booked). In these cases, an alternate destination can be substituted for the one booked, and no refunds or other compensation is required from the travel company. As of this writing, no ports or other destinations have been quarantined long enough for this policy to be tested, however.
Make sure you read the fine print of any trip insurance you purchase. If it is unclear to you what is covered and what is not, call the insurance representative. Remember that ever policy is different.