Flight Centre continues ban on SAA flights, as business rescue process starts

One of South Africa’s largest Online Travel Agents (OTA), Flight Centre says its position to pull South African Airways flights from its online inventory remains unchanged - following the announcement that the ailing national carrier is set to be placed into business rescue.

According to a statement issued by Flight Centre last week, the move was done, as its preferred Travel Insurance Provider, Travel Insurance Consultants (TIC) are no longer willing to cover SAA under their Travel Supplier Insolvency benefit, due to doubts concerning the long-term viability of the airline. 

At the time Flight Centre "advised that a number of other global insurers have taken a similar approach”.

Travel Check on the other hand has reinstated SAA flights, saying they will leave it up to the traveller now that "the business rescue plans are being put in place".  

READ: SA Online booking sites pull the plug on SAA flights

When you’re a struggling airline, it’s clear that insurance is vitally important – as SAA plans to operate a new provisional schedule during its business rescue proceedings. It stressed that Mango operations however, will not be affected in this process. Added to that the state has said it would make R2bn available during the process to ensure SAA can operate normally. 

READ: SAA revises schedule as business rescue gets underway with added R2bn lifeline

However, as a Traveller, taking out the right cover cannot be stressed enough. For instance – when the SAA week-long strike hit, affected travellers were covered, even though they were admittedly sorely inconvenienced. 

Travellers were also give the option to be reimbursed by the airline, or they could opt to rebook within a specific period of travel – with travel insurance they were covered under the “travel delay and missed connection benefits due to an unexpected, unforeseen strike”. 

Usually, insurance policies include cover for cancellations with reimbursements for a percentage of the cancellation costs of any pre-paid, non-refundable travel and accommodation.  Cover is then also provided for the additional cost of meals and accommodation, according to Uriah Jansen, Head of Hollard Travel. At the end of November the insurance provider also decided to no longer cover SAA travel for insolvency. 

Hollard has not confirmed if this position would change now that the airline is in business rescue.  

While the strike was an unforeseen event, the financial crisis of the national carrier is far from unknown – and undertaking business rescue measures, even with a R2bn lifeline from the state, it does not mean SAA will be entirely revived to a position of financial safety.   

Business Insider reports that of more than 3 000 South African business have been placed in business rescue since 2011. Only a third are still in business.

 Either way - travel insurance provides peace of mind that when things do go wrong.

 What travellers need to know about taking out insurance: 

  • Do your research for cost-effective cover

A basic form of travel insurance is often provided by your bank when purchasing an air ticket using your credit card. But, be warned that this cover may not be sufficient as it often places caps on age, costs, services and certain destinations. 

Vera Nagtegaal, executive head of comparison website Hippo.co.za, recommends going through your policy with a fine-tooth comb to determine exactly what is included and what is excluded. 

Most travel insurance offerings cover includes emergency medical expenses, hospital cash benefit per day, personal accident cover in the event of death or permanent disability, emergency travel and accommodation, legal assistance and personal liability cover, among others.

However not all policies are the same and adds that various types of travel insurance are available depending on your needs.  

  • Business Insurance: If you’re travelling for business you would fall into one of two categories. Business administrative insurance for people who are typically travelling to a meeting, or business industrial insurance if you are travelling to perform a service or some sort of manual labour. This type of insurance generally provides cover for aspects like delayed or cancelled flights, lost passports and medical cover. 
  • Senior citizen travel insurance: For those over 70, for example, this insurance covers things like medical expenses, a visit from a family member if necessary, missed flights or cancellations and lost or delayed luggage. Student travel insurance: This type of insurance is for younger people travelling for work or leisure and includes cover for emergency medical costs, injury or damage to a third person or their property, cancellation of an entire trip and missed flights.
  • Group travel insurance: If there are more people travelling as a group to the same destination, group travel insurance may be a better bet. This type of insurance generally includes cover for medical costs, cash back for lost or delayed luggage, flight cancellations and missed flights and cover if a third person is injured. 

What about cover for travel to dangerous areas and or adventure activities?

“Depending on the country you plan on visiting, you may want to purchase extra cover,” explains Nagtegaal. This covers you should an act of terrorism interrupt your trip, force you to cancel the trip or harm you in any way. Travellers should be mindful that certain travel insurance providers might exclude cover when travelling to certain destinations because they are either considered disaster-prone areas or are experiencing unrest, or a health epidemic, such as a malaria or cholera outbreak.

Adventure activities such as skiing, kayaking, bungee jumping, scuba diving and mountain biking can be dangerous so make sure that you’re insured for any mishap that might occur and also include cover for your sports equipment.

Insurance safety net, but be savvy

Nagtegaal says that in addition to taking out the correct travel insurance for your trip, travellers should also be wary and alert while abroad to prevent accidents. 

Whether you’re travelling to a neighbouring country or further afield, for business or leisure, in a group or alone, make sure that you have the right cover for your specific needs. 

“You should make a list of your particular needs over-and-above what your general travel insurance covers and then compare the various quotes to ensure that you get the best value for money. Travel insurance is there to protect you and to offer you peace of mind if you require medical attention, evacuation or suffer financial loss”. 

So if SAA remains your airline of choice, the clear message is to check your T&Cs and ensure you know that your insurance really does have your back.  

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