Haze disrupted trips, but not all insurers pay out

Some travellers whose plans were disrupted by last year's haze have found they cannot make insurance claims, even though the conditions were the worst on record.

Insurance companies such as Ace Group and MSIG have refused to pay out, saying the haze - caused by smoke from forest fires in Indonesia - is a man-made event rather than a natural phenomenon.

A man stranded in Langkawi for almost two days and forced to travel back to Singapore by bus was told he could not be compensated, while his travel companion received a $300 payout from Aviva.

Ace does not compensate for flight cancellations and delays due to haze, but said it will pay out for any haze-related health conditions that occur while travelling.

The General Insurance Association has advised consumers to seek guidance on key travel insurance features and major exclusions.

Travel plans hit by haze? Some insurers won't accept claims

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

Plumes of smoke from 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 for compensation under their travel insurance policies.

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

Mr 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, Mr 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 the Asia-Pacific, Mr Jon Ford, said its travel insurance policies would provide medical coverage to a person who developed 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 cancellations due to the haze. NTUC Income did so in 2014.

Said the insurer's senior manager of personal lines Annie Chua: "The haze situation has 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."

Mr Derek Teo, executive director of the General Insurance Association of Singapore, said the association did 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, Mr Teo advised consumers to seek guidance from insurers' websites or from insurance intermediaries on key travel insurance product features and major exclusions.

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


This article was first published on Jan 4, 2016.
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