Thousands of Australian travellers had their Bali travel plans disrupted due to volcanic ash in 2015 and 2016.
The volcanic ash clouds, which resulted from two eruptions of Mount Rinjani and Mount Raung in Indonesia, grounded flights in and out of Denpasar airport for several days. Travellers either couldn’t get to Bali, or were stranded overseas with no other option but to pay for additional accommodation and food while waiting out the delays.
Because of the travel delays and rescheduling, many travellers spent hundreds of dollars more than expected, or lost money on their prepaid flights, tours and accommodation bookings.
Fortunately, smart travellers were reimbursed for these unexpected expenses.
How? The answer is travel insurance.
5 ways volcanic ash can affect your holiday
- Your flight overseas may be rescheduled, meaning missed tours or bookings.
- Your flight may be delayed, meaning missed connections or extra hours in transit.
- Your flight may be cancelled completely – back to square one of holiday planning!
- You might end up paying for extra accommodation to wait out delays.
- Volcanic ash may trigger a medical condition that requires treatment or monitoring in hospital such as asthma.
How does travel insurance provide cover for a volcanic eruption or ash cloud?
Travel insurance can provide essential cover in a medical emergency, but may also cover many other unexpected situations including travel delays caused by volcanic ash clouds.
Volcanic ash, like a natural disaster, is generally considered an ‘unforeseen event’ until it appears in mainstream media and becomes public knowledge.
Unforeseen events which impact you financially while on holiday are one of the scenarios travel insurance is intended to cover.
Travel insurance may provide cover for a range of expenses you might experience as a result of a volcanic ash cloud, including:
- Cancelled or delayed flights
- Travel delay expenses such as additional accommodation and food costs
- Alternative transport expenses
- Overseas emergency medical expenses
- Overseas emergency evacuation or repatriation expenses
Ask your travel insurer or check the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) for a full list of what is and isn't covered.
Will I be covered if I cancel my holiday because volcanic ash has resulted in the rescheduling of flights?
In most instances, this is not covered. If your flights are rescheduled, that means you are still able to go on your holiday, though not at the time you originally planned.
In most scenarios, you may only be able to claim back the lost deposits you can’t recover in any other way, including by rescheduling.
However, if your flights are cancelled altogether, you will most likely be able to make a claim for the costs of the flights as well as the prepaid travel arrangements you’re unable to use.
Sarah’s Bali ash cloud holiday experience*
Sarah was holidaying in Bali with her husband and two children when Mt Raung erupted, resulting in a huge ash cloud that grounded planes going to and from Denpasar airport.
The family was stuck in Bali for an additional nine days more than they planned or budgeted for. Their flights were rescheduled, but they still spent hundreds of dollars more on accommodation and food.
Fortunately, because Sarah had purchased comprehensive travel insurance before the ash cloud began impacting flights, she was able to make a claim when she returned home to Perth and was reimbursed for the unexpected expenses.
What overseas medical expenses does travel insurance cover?
If your health is affected in some way by the volcanic ash, your policy may provide cover for related medical expenses.
If you have a pre-existing medical condition that affects your lungs or breathing such as asthma, check your travel insurance provider’s Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) to ensure you have cover for these.
With an appropriate travel insurance policy in place, you’ll have emergency overseas medical cover if a volcanic ash cloud means you need to seek medical treatment or can no longer travel.
Will I be covered if I become sick or injured in a natural disaster?
A volcanic ash cloud is a type of natural disaster and, unless you are subject to an exclusion, you may be covered for overseas medical emergencies as a direct result of the disaster.
That means if you need to see a doctor, seek treatment in hospital, or be evacuated due to a medical emergency, you’ll have cover in place for those expenses.
If a volcanic ash cloud results in your health deteriorating and you need medical attention, your travel insurance may provide cover for these costs.
When won’t I be covered for expenses related to a volcanic ash cloud?
Travel insurance policies have a list of general exclusions when the policy won’t provide cover.
When it comes to volcanic ash clouds and other natural disasters, there’s two important exclusions to consider:
1) You’re not covered for ‘known events’
This means you can’t purchase travel insurance to provide cover for an event that is already occurring and known to be disrupting travellers – including for a volcanic ash cloud that is already known to be delaying flights. If you hear about a volcanic ash cloud causing travel delays to Bali before you travel there, and you haven’t purchased travel insurance yet, it is highly unlikely you’ll be able to purchase a policy that provides cover for delays or cancellations caused by the ash cloud. This would be like trying to buy a car insurance policy after having an accident.
2) You’re not covered for ‘over-the-top’ additional expenses
If your flight home is delayed due to a volcanic ash cloud and you have travel insurance in place, you may have cover for various additional expenses such as extra nights of accommodation and food. However, this doesn’t mean you insurer will pay for your stay in a 5-star hotel, spa treatments and thrice-daily room service. Only reasonable expenses will be covered, so don’t go overboard.
Am I covered if a volcanic eruption or ash cloud ruins my holiday?
A volcanic ash cloud may mean the sky is grey and delay your planned plane trip home, but travel insurance doesn’t provide cover for disappointment.
To put it simply, travel insurance doesn’t provide cover simply because you do not enjoy a holiday or voluntarily decide not to travel.
However, it will provide cover for various unexpected expenses such as cancelled or delayed flights, extra accommodation costs, and overseas medical emergencies.
How much insurance can I get for a volcanic ash cloud?
The amount of cover you have for additional expenses, such as the costs of hotel or backpacker accommodation and extra food, will depend on your travel insurance policy.
The same conditions will apply to the costs of medical care, medical emergency evacuations, cancelled flights and other pre-booked holiday accommodation, tours or packages. Some travel insurers offer unlimited cover for overseas medical expenses and cancellations, while others cap the amount of cover provided.
Always read the Product Disclosure Statement before you choose your travel insurance policy, so that you’re aware of any benefit limits that apply.
How to make a travel insurance claim for expenses related to a volcanic ash cloud
There’s two main tips to make sure you’re prepared to claim for any extra expenses or cancellations related to a volcanic ash cloud:
1) Get everything you can in writing
The more proof you can provide, the quicker and easier it will be to process your claim. You’ll need something that specifically cites the cause for the cancellation or delay such as a written statement from the airline.
In the event of cancellations or travel delays due to a volcanic ash cloud, a newspaper article showing dates may also be sufficient.
It’s also important to keep receipts of any expenses you incur while delayed overseas, including for your accommodation and food costs. You should also hold onto your boarding passes and credit card statements.
2) Contact your insurer as soon as possible
It’s important to get in touch with your travel insurer and let them know what’s happening as soon as possible.
They can direct you to appropriate emergency services, help organise alternative accommodation, and advise what documentation you’ll need to provide for your claim. It will also give you a chance to discuss what is and isn’t covered with your policy.
Where a volcanic ash cloud may strike
Wherever there’s an active volcano, there’s a danger of volcanic ash clouds negatively impacting on your holiday. It can be on your favourite island holiday destination, or further inland.
A few examples of destinations where volcanic ash clouds are known to strike regularly include:
- Iceland (which can spread to mainland Europe and the United Kingdom)
- Indonesia (which can impact the Pacific region including Papua New Guinea and the Philippines)
- El Salvador
This is not a comprehensive list, but it does illustrate just how many areas may be impacted by volcanic activity.
Being prepared is key to avoiding or managing the risks when you travel overseas. Before you travel you should thoroughly research your holiday destination to find out what potential risks you might face.
Smart Traveller also recommends purchasing travel insurance to provide you with cover for unexpected expenses and emergencies such as a volcanic ash cloud.
Is there a volcano near your next holiday destination? Make sure you have Comprehensive travel insurance in place in case of a volcanic ash cloud.
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*Stories are fictitious examples drawn from the experiences of Fast Cover travellers and staff. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.