This traveler says that her flight was canceled. But was it?


Linda Keberle and her husband planned a 12-day Baltic vacation on a Holland America cruise, departing from Copenhagen, Denmark. But while they were still at the Cleveland airport, British Airways shut down its operations. The Keberles canceled their trip, believing that they would not be able to make their connecting flight on British Airways to Copenhagen.

Although the Keberles didn’t take their cruise, they were about to embark on an even more complex journey to recover the cost of their trip. Their story is one of frustration and drama — with an unexpected twist at the end.

The Keberles purchased a Trip Mate travel insurance policy to cover their trip that included trip cancellation coverage. One of the covered conditions under the policy was “Terrorism in Itinerary City.”

To get to Copenhagen, they booked tickets on American Airlines from Cleveland to London via Philadelphia and on British Airways from London to Copenhagen.

Then on May 27, the scheduled day of the Keberles’ departure, British Airways’ computer system went down, stopping all flights to and from Heathrow and Gatwick Airports in London.

While still in Cleveland, the Keberles canceled their trip, believing that it would not be possible to travel to Copenhagen to board their cruise ship on time. They filed a claim on their Trip Mate policy for the cost of the trip, assuming that their cancellation was covered under the trip cancellation coverage provisions of the policy, which included the following language:

For Trip Cancellation or Trip Interruption, Unforeseen Events Include:
…(b) Inclement weather, Natural Disasters, Terrorist Attacks, or mechanical breakdown of the common carrier which results in the complete cessation of travel services at the point of departure or destination for at least 12 consecutive hours.

But Trip Mate denied their claim. The denial didn’t sit well with Keberle, who sent the following to her agent (all caps in the following paragraph is Keberle’s):

I just looked up [the] LEGAL definition of “common carrier” which is “an individual or COMPANY which is in the regular business of TRANSPORTING people by freight”… AKA BRITISH AIRWAYS!!!

I have sent you previously [the] definition of MACHINE. which includes COMPUTER SYSTEMS … and the breakdown is not disputable if you look up any article regarding the complete cessation (shutdown) of operations by British Airways which began 5/27/17 and continued through the day into the following day with flights affected for three days.

Keberle asked our advocates for help in persuading Trip Mate to reverse its decision and pay her claim. (Executive contact information for Trip Mate is available on our website.)

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When our advocates reached out to Trip Mate on Keberle’s behalf, we learned that Trip Mate had sent the following letter to Keberle explaining its denial:

You advised that you cancelled your trip because the airline was unable to guarantee your arrival in Copenhagen in time for your cruise departure. … The information on file indicates that the American Airlines flights from Cleveland to Philadelphia and Philadelphia to London on May 27, 2017 operated as scheduled and that the British Airways flight from London to Copenhagen on May 28, 2017 arrived 27 minutes later than scheduled. … [We] must uphold our previous determination that benefits are not payable under the trip cancellation provisions of the plan.

We also reviewed your claim for loss resulting from a terrorist attack. In order for benefits to be payable under the plan, a politically motivated Terrorist Attack must occur within a 50-mile radius of the territorial city limits of a city to be visited as shown on your itinerary within 30 days of your scheduled departure.

The information on file does not indicate a Terrorist Attack that occurred within 30 days of your scheduled departure on May 27, 2017 in a city listed on your trip itinerary. Consequently, we must uphold our previous determination that benefits are not payable under the trip cancellation provisions of the plan.

So while it’s understandable that the Keberles thought they weren’t going to be able to make it to London, that didn’t turn out to actually be the case. And the IT issues with British Airways were not caused by a terrorist attack.

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And Keberle’s message to her agent, containing sarcasm and language in all caps (the online equivalent of shouting), was not likely to motivate her agent or anyone at Trip Mate to reverse the denial.

Yet it did. Our advocates received the following from Trip Mate:

When our representative spoke to Mrs. Keberle last week, we mistakenly advised that benefits were payable. Due to the confusion, we feel obligated to honor our statement and issue benefits. Benefits have been issued in the amount of $4,654 total ($2,327 per person).

… [It] is our position that Mr. and Mrs. Keberle were not prevented from taking their covered trip due to complete cessation of travel services at the point of departure or destination for a least 12 consecutive hours. Despite this, we will honor our statement to the Keberles.

In any case, benefits have been issued as an exception. We feel an obligation to honor the statement made to Mrs. Keberle by our staff member during their telephone conversation last week.

Even though insurance companies seldom reverse claim denials, Keberle’s claim is one of the rare instances where an insurance company agreed to it. But this resolution is an exception to normal procedure.

Trip Mate emphasized that it is issuing the payout while not agreeing with Keberle’s position. And we don’t endorse the tone Keberle took with her agent. We urge our readers to address representatives of companies with which they are asking for help — and our advocates — with politeness, respect and honesty.

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Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org.

  • deemery

    Great outcome, but parts of the story are contradictory. Is there a way to independently confirm (FlightAware?) that the flights did go as scheduled?

  • Steve Rabin

    I guess the real question is did BA contact them to say their flight was cancelled? If so, I would think they have a case.

  • Mark

    Yep, if they had confirmation from BA that the flight was cancelled and there were no rebooking options, I could understand the decision.

    If it was just a story of “we saw the news about BA and decided our flight probably wouldn’t happen”, then that’s tougher. It’s always worth trying. Worst case scenario they could have either been re-accommodated on an SAS / Easyjet / Ryanair / Norwegian flight to Copenhagen (or Stockholm / Gothenburg / Billund and take a train). Admittedly that may have been at their own expense (to be later argued with insurance / BA) – but it would have been a shame to miss out on the holiday.

  • sirwired

    I would not classify an IT systems failure as a “mechanical breakdown.” That said, I really wish insurance policies would just cover “any common carrier delay or cancellation”. It gets complicated, confusing, and leaves coverage gaps where different carriers cover different cancellation reasons.

  • Lindabator

    FAA lists all flights, delays, cancellations, etc, which the insurance company uses to determine benfits

  • Lindabator

    I know – and why not call the insurance company BEFORE cancelling all – they may have had a better suggestion – people can be really dense in these cases

  • Lindabator

    but any delay due to a lightning storm in Miami, say, is NOT something an airline can control, so I understand insurance having specifics to follow as well

  • sirwired

    For the purposes of deciding if trip insurance should cover it, I don’t think the source of the delay/cancel, be it ATC, weather, mechanical, labor unrest, whatever, should matter.

    It matters very much to what the airline is going to do for free, vs. what the traveler/insurance is going to pay for, but the purpose of insurance is supposed to be so the traveler doesn’t have to pay for unexpected things out of their control.

  • Alan Gore

    This case illustrates a major flaw in today’s concept of using travel insurance to compensate for the missing customer service from travel companies, which in this case should have been in the form of a complete refund from BA and a do-over from the cruise company, that we no longer get today. When travel companies turn over all of the customer service to an insurance carrier, the pax is dealing with an organization whose job it is to deny your claim on any thin grounds they might be able to come up with

    If we really want to keep insurance companies in the loop, why not make travel operate like health care? When you want to go somewhere you would call an insurance company which which has contractual arrangements with airlines, cruise companies and hotels in the region you want to go to. We could call it Managed Travel.

  • PsyGuy

    WOW, someone owes some prayers to whatever team of angels made that happen.

    This is just one example of PAX who believe because the “think” something, that that is what will happen, mainly that in this case the PAX believed they would not be able to arrive at their destination in time for the cruise.

  • PsyGuy

    Count on being covered, they are likely to issue a denial at first statin the grounds of the heart attack was a pre-existing condition.

    We already have that, it’s called a “travel agent”.

  • PsyGuy

    They weren’t, and they didn’t. The LW found out though an external channel about the flight issues. They didn’t receive a text or email or notice from BA their flights were canceled, or rescheduled, or anything else.

  • PsyGuy

    More importantly PAX can choose to be really dense.

  • Lindabator

    but the airlines have a system in place, and if you fail to utilize that and just cancel because you feel like it, insurance will not cover moments of stupidity — call them first, and they can work with the airline – they know how they work, and what you are and are not entitled to, in which case, if the airlines cannot assist, insurance can cover the cost of changes, new ticket replacement, etc

  • Lindabator

    WHY???? The flight still flew, the cruise still sailed — they just foolishly decided to cancel out of fear — NO ONE covers acts of stupidity

  • BubbaJoe123

    “which in this case should have been in the form of a complete refund from BA and a do-over from the cruise company”

    1. Why should BA provide a refund for flights which weren’t cancelled?
    2. Even if the BA flight HAD been cancelled, why should a cruise company provide a do-over when a customer didn’t show up for the cruise due to reasons which are absolutely no fault of the cruise line?

  • BubbaJoe123

    BTW, this article’s headline is further evidence of Betteridge’s Law of Headlines.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betteridge%27s_law_of_headlines

  • Blamona

    I hate when people shout and get sarcastic to get what they want. Makes me not want to help them

  • Alan Gore

    I’m presuming this was when every news source in the country was showing us seas of people sitting around at BA hubs, unable to get anywhere because of the IT mess, which also made it impossible to get a straight answer out of anyone about whether a particular flight was still on.

    Meanwhile, any cruise line that doesn’t want to sail a half-empty vessel should be making deals for passengers to make their ship somehow, however circuitously. It’s called service, and I still remember when it existed in travel.

  • The Original Joe S

    I was thinking this same thing. Call the insurance company, record the conversation, and see what they tell you.

  • The Original Joe S

    You remember when service existed in travel? I guess you’re old like I, who also remembers when Grover Cleavage was President……

  • The Original Joe S

    and companies will NOT provide customer service to anyone…..

  • The Original Joe S

    sometimes they may have been so jerked around that they are totally angry, and proffer invectives. Being calm and polite, at least in the beginning, may get the desired results. However, when dealing with evil, recalcitrant, obdurate people, it’s not a wonder that folks get frustrated and go off on a rant……

  • BubbaJoe123

    So, you think that it’s the cruise line’s responsibility to find ways for pax to get to their ship? If the pax are caught in traffic in the way to the airport, should the cruise line send a helicopter to scoop them up?

    The cruise line probably didn’t even know what flights they were taking!

  • cscasi

    My Friday “chuckle”.

  • Alan Gore

    Of course an IT disaster at British Airlines is not the cruise line’s fault, any more than a volcanic eruption in Iceland would be. My point is that a disaster affecting a large number of your passengers gives the line an opportunity to create customer goodwill by doing something creative to accommodate customers, rather than just ignoring them. This benefits your business when the economy turns south and everybody else in the field is scratching for patronage.

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