Haze disrupted trips, but not all insurers pay out

Audrey Tan, My Paper AsiaOne 4 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE - The haze that blanketed Singapore and the region last year was the worst on record.

Plumes of smoke from the forest fires in Indonesia spread as far as the Philippines, causing health problems, school closures and flight cancellations.

Some travellers who faced trip disruptions due to the haze have found that they cannot make claims from their travel insurance policies.

This is because some insurers, such as the Ace Group and MSIG Insurance (Singapore), do not consider the haze a natural phenomenon.

Yeo Aik Siang, 33, was stranded in Langkawi for two days in October last year after a five-day holiday with a friend.

What was meant to be an 85-minute flight back to Singapore eventually turned into a 41-hour trip involving two cancelled flights, a three-hour ferry ride and a 10-hour bus journey.

But Mr Yeo, who works in the insurance industry, was told by MSIG Insurance (Singapore) that he could not be compensated as the cause of his delays was man-made rather than an adverse weather condition.

However, his travel companion Mark Ho, 33, who works in the oil and gas industry, received a $300 payout from insurer Aviva.

A spokesman for MSIG told The Straits Times that "adverse weather conditions" refer to natural ones.

She said: "MSIG takes the view that the recent haze phenomenon, which was created in Indonesia, is principally a man-made event and should not be construed as a common weather phenomenon."

This is the same for the Ace Group, which did not reimburse travellers for flight cancellations or delays due to the haze.

But its vice-president and head of travel in Asia Pacific, Jon Ford, said its travel insurance policies would provide medical coverage to a person who develops a haze-related health issue while travelling.

Other insurers such as NTUC Income have tweaked their policies to allow travellers to make claims for flight cancellation due to the haze. NTUC Income did so in 2014.

Said the insurer's senior manager of personal lines Annie Chua: "The haze situation deteriorated in recent years.

"This affected flight schedules as flights were grounded due to poor visibility. We recognise that the haze may return again, which is why NTUC Income expanded its trip cancellation, trip postponement and travel delay coverage to include haze-related claims."

Derek Teo, executive director of the General Insurance Association, said that the association does not comment on an insurer's product features, exclusions and special conditions.

This is partly because key product features or extended coverage are factored in the price and could vary from one insurer to another.

Instead, he advised consumers to seek guidance from insurers' websites or from insurance intermediaries on the key product features and major exclusions for travel insurance.

He said: "We do not go into specific uninsured perils like the haze. Cover would usually apply to damage or loss arising from unforeseen natural disasters, for example, a bush fire, flood, earthquake and tsunami."

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