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. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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