When travel insurance doesn’t kick in, it’s a kicker


When Mal Karman booked a Hawaiian Airlines ticket from San Francisco to Oahu, he also took out a travel insurance through Allianz Global Assistance — just to be safe. He even arrived early for his flight.

So far, so good.

Enter the TSA.

Karman requested a security pat-down instead of passing through the screener. TSA allows passengers to opt-out of the screening by X-ray and advanced imaging, and some passengers with certain medical conditions, such as Karman, elect to do so.

TSA policy establishes that the pat-down will be conducted by an officer of the same gender, right next to the scanners, or, if desired, in private. Karman didn’t need a private pat-down, but he was told to sit down and wait.

And wait he did.

After what seemed like an awfully long time, Karman got up to ask about his pat-down. He was told to have a seat, and he did.

Forty minutes had passed when an officer finally came, and, according to Karman, very politely conducted the pat-down. They then moved on to Karman’s carry-on, which contained a laptop.

“The officer swabbed the bag itself, and then — Gawd! — his test device flashed red,” he remembers. “He kind of winced — as if he didn’t believe it — went through the process all over again, and again a red warning signal.”

He called another agent to assist, and eventually, a supervisor. Another three scans for the laptop and a 15-minute wait for a supervisor, and Karman was free to go to Oahu.

Except for one small problem. His flight had left without him.

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He went to another Hawaiian Airlines gate to explain the TSA-induced delay. The gate agent said, “Oh, we were looking for you!”

The gate agent presented Karman with two options: wait 24 hours for the next plane to Oahu, or take the flight about to depart for Maui, and purchase a ticket from Maui to Oahu.

Not wanting to wait an entire day to leave, Karman chose the latter option, knowing his travel insurance would cover the expenses incurred by this delay.


Or would it?

After Karman’s return to San Francisco, he contacted Allianz to file a reimbursement claim for the $269 he paid for the flight between Maui and Oahu and ground transportation to his resort, expenses directly resulting from that lengthy security screening in San Francisco.

Allianz explained, with all the heart and sensitivity of a massive insurance carrier, “We don’t cover delays caused by TSA.”

Really?

While ineloquent and infuriating, Allianz’s conclusion is probably correct. We have asked Karman for a paper trail so we can examine the terms of his particular policy, and we will update this story when those facts become available.

Travel insurance policies generally cover expenses related to delays lasting beyond 12 hours. For example, if your flight is delayed overnight, insurance may reimburse the cost of a hotel room, travel by taxi, and a meal.

Travel insurance policies also cover trip cancellation for certain situations, such as involvement in a car accident directly on the way to the airport.

Turns out these policies have many more exclusions than coverages.

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What most travel insurance does not cover are delays caused at security or by forgetting your passport, showing up late to the airport, or other situations that are arguably within the passenger’s control.

It’s true, and probably wise, that most passengers do not argue with TSA to hurry up. But, should Karman have arrived earlier to the airport, knowing he would require alternate screening?

For one, Hawaiian Airlines “urges passengers to arrive at the airport at least two hours prior to overseas flights.” TSA also recommends passengers get to larger airports two hours before departure.

Should Karman expect compensation from either Hawaiian Airlines or Allianz for his interisland flight? Or should he have arrived at the airport even earlier?

Should we advocate for Karman to be reimbursed by Allianz?

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Jessica Monsell

A writer and natural advocate, Jessica joined our consumer advocacy effort following a decade of work on behalf of air crash victims at one of the nation's largest plaintiffs' law firms. She has lived in Europe and Asia, but now calls Charleston, S.C. home.

  • LostInMidwest

    I can’t say whether you should or should not advocate. TSA behaved as expected (Government-sanctioned bullies) and the traveler got to the airport WAY too late for even normal procedure. I always plan to get to the airport 2 hours before departure, which cuts it (1 out of 10 times) to 1 and 20 minutes. And I have airline status + pre-check. That is one of the main reasons why flying so unbelievably sucks and you will be faster driving even than a direct flight if it is up to 350 miles distance.

    So, the best advice I have for him is to sign up for pre-check. It is just like Tony Soprano’s protection … you pay if you wanna play. And if you don’t pay … well, we CAN make you miss you flight, don’t we?

  • Chris_In_NC

    Per the article, if a 1 hour delay through security (40 minutes waiting for a pat down + 15 minutes for supervisor) caused him to miss his flight, then he did NOT arrive early enough. Unless there are details that are missing, this one sounds like traveler error.

  • John Baker

    I voted no… He arrived too late especially considering he requires, and knew he requires, specially handling. It doesn’t help that his bad then alarmed requiring additional measures.

  • Jeff W.

    Sounds like he did not arrive earlier enough. Unless he arrived two hours prior and waited in line an hour before having to wait 40 minutes for a pat down (per his request) and then the 15 minutes for the laptop (stuff happens), then there is no case.

    I would also question, the flight had left without him. If the door was closed, he just missed it and maybe he has a better case. If there was no plane at the gate at all, that meant he really did not give himself any time. SFO is not a small airport — you need to give yourself a cushion for irregularities.

  • sirwired

    I don’t see any indication he was at the airport 2 hours prior to departure; he only experienced one hour of delays, so unless the luggage line was REALLY long, he was late. And since he knew he was going to get held up at the TSA, I would have allowed even longer.

    Insurance is supposed to cover the unexpected, not the easily avoidable.

    Side note: While certainly opting out of the scanner is his right, I cannot imagine what medical conditions would not allow the use of the body scanners. It’s actually the metal detectors (what you go through with pre-check) that do not allow certain medical devices (artificial joints and electronic doo-dads such as pacemakers) The scanners are actually SAFER for such devices vs. the metal detectors.

    Really, if the scanners had been deployed at the beginning as they are now (where there’s just an outline of a generic person, along with a “box” where it’s found something) I don’t think there would have been such a fuss. They are still pointless, but I don’t think folks would have been so upset about them, privacy-wise.

  • Noah Kimmel

    It is unreasonable to wait over an hour at TSA.

    However, that is not the fault of Hawaiin nor is it his travel insurance’s job to reimburse as he chose an alternate path and to some extent, could have forseen this and arrived earlier.

    Hawaiin could have been nice and helped accomodate him on the connecting flight (if it was operated by them) since they were willing to put him on other flights for free, but were under no obligation.

    Seems like one of those times where the passenger did indeed get screwed, but unfortunately, the people who might pay to fix it simply arent responsible and shouldn’t be held accountable

  • Richard Smith

    I have a medical condition that prevents me from using the body scanners — it is an injured shoulder that prevents me from raising one arm the way they desire.

    Prior to getting Global Entry access (which includes TSA Pre-Check) I was always directed to walk through the metal detector and not required to have a pat down (except at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas.) This was usually a fast procedure.

    Hawaiian has pre-check available at SFO.

    (The one complaint I have about Pre-Check is that it is not extended to airlines outside of the US and Canada. So my international flights still have the TSA delay.)

  • Richard Smith

    One issue is that most people, when they hear “overseas flight” think it means an international flight. Since Hawaiian Airlines flies to several Asian countries (Australia, Japan, South Korea, Tonga, China, Taiwan, Tahiti, Philippines, Cook Island, and Arizona) one can definitely understand some confusion.

    Furthermore, a look at Hawaiian Airlines checkin times page (http://www2.hawaiianairlines.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/815) says:

    You’ll need to be checked in and issued a boarding pass no later than 30 minutes for Neighbor Island / 45 minutes for North America / 60 minutes for International flights prior to your scheduled departure when using a kiosk or checking-in with an agent.

    No mention of “overseas” flight, and definitely not two hours.

  • sirwired

    Oh. Hmm… yeah, not being able to raise your arms would do it…

  • sirwired

    Errr… look closer at that page you linked. It clearly lists recommended check-in times.

    Neighbor Island, 1 1/2 hours, North America, 2 1/2 hours, International 3 hours.

    But yeah, I don’t know where the “2 hours for overseas” came from.

  • Barthel

    Typical of an insurance company, they sometimes arbitrarily deny claims hoping the insured will accept their decision and go away. Fighting the insurance company or filing a complaint with the state department of insurance will sometimes bring victory for the insured. It has worked for me several times. In the case of Mal Karman, there is the question of why a long delay in starting the screening and what was the problem when they scanned his bag and what finally allowed him to pass security.

  • Flywisely

    Let’s be honest here. If you request a pat-down in a very busy airport, chances are you will wait a long time. It’s your choice and you have to live with the consequences.
    Also, I don’t think travel insurance will cover government security caused delays so don’t blame the insurance company.
    Security will get tighter and tighter because of what you are seeing nowadays.
    In Europe they do individual interviews (yes, each passenger separately) before you can board a US bound flight now.

  • Regina Litman

    I voted No this time because I would have, once the wait got longer, gone through the other screening. I usually vote on the side of asking for exceptions, but this one looks to have been an avoidable situation. The voting is close to 50-50 right now, with Yes slightly in the lead. Since mine is more of a “Leans No” (as almost all of my No votes here are), I’m satisfied with that.

  • Rebecca

    I don’t think this is an arbitrary denial. It is something that simply isn’t covered by travel insurance. Filing a complaint won’t get him anywhere because it isn’t a covered reason.

  • Barthel

    A complaint would need to be answered. There is a possibility that the insurance company would pay just to avoid the hassle. I would not have waited that long for the screening. He should have opted for the traditional screening or been more vocal about getting the process started.

  • disqus_wK5MCy17IP

    I would love to see a story on this site with examples of travel insurance paying a claim. Lately it seems like you’re trying to drum up business by encouraging people not to buy it because travel providers should always make a compassionate exception when contacted by a consumer advocate and alternatively criticizing insurance. I shared an example yesterday where a friend was diagnosed with cancer and easily obtained a refund for a canceled trip. I’m sure there are other examples that can be shared to encourage people to be personally responsible and purchase adequate insurance.

  • Kerr

    Actually, larger airports have more TSA employees. How long you have to wait for a pat down seems to be random, but 40 minutes is WAY too long.

  • FQTVLR

    I came home from Paris 3 days after the attacks and breezed through the Charles de Gaulle with no problem No interview, basic security check and off I went to Atlanta. Spoke with friends who came back several days after and they were not interviewed either.

  • AMA

    Can you change your mind and go back to be scanned after you’ve asked for a pat down, or do they hold you there, waiting? With the TSA, I bet they make you sit there.

  • Alan Gore

    Travel insurance that weasels out of an in-airport problem like this is not real travel insurance.

  • Alan Gore

    We wouldn’t want compassion to start seeping into the travel industry now, would we? That could lead to people expecting customer service.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    Please name a travel insurance policy or a travel insurance plan that covers delays caused by the TSA or US Customs?

    Most travel insurance policies will have the following: “Missed Connection: Reimburses expenses resulting from a covered delay that causes you to miss your scheduled flight or cruise.”

    The covered delays are listed in the policies and some of the commonly covered delays are the following:

    * Delays due to common carrier problems, including inclement weather.

    * Delays due to lost or stolen passports, money, or other travel documents.

    * Delays due to quarantine of you or your traveling companion.

    * Delays due to hijacking.

    * Delays due to unannounced strikes.

    * Delays due to natural disasters.

    * Delays due to civil disorder, riots or unrest.

    * Delays due to severe weather causing a route to be closed by government officials such as the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

    The policy doesn’t state that it cover delays caused by the TSA…if it did, then they should pay.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    How about the OP informing the TSA that he had a flight at xx:xx XM to board when he initially told the TSA that he wanted a pat-down screening? Or after waiting 15 minutes?

  • Flywisely

    You are lucky. My bro flew into CDG after the carnage and missed his connection. Bags went missing for 2 days. Just recently, on the way home, all US bound folks got interviewed in Nice (NCE). Not sure what the heck is going on there in France.

  • Hollis Wagenstein Hurturk

    The pivot point in the comments seems to be how early the passenger arrived. The synopsis just says “early”. We can only assume that he had legitimate medical reasons for requesting a private pat-down. Airports and other publicly-funded institutions have an obligation to assist disabled passengers, without insisting upon a detailed explanation. IMHO the gentleman was within his rights to request the private pat-down, and should have been assisted in speeding through check-in. The laptop complicates the issue, but it seems like he was victimized by an officious overabundance of caution.

  • KarlaKatz

    I often accompany a wheelchair-sitting friend on her travels, and she always has to opt out. Interestingly, some airports do a cursory look-and-pat down, whilst others insist on the full touchy-feely-rubby search. In any case, even though she can stand for the searches, she does so with assistance, and can’t use the scanner. It goes without saying, we always arrive about 3 hours early, make it a fun time with word games and chit-chat, etc. Haven’t missed a flight yet, even with delays at TSA.

  • Tricia K

    I have artificial joints and am never sure how smoothly security is going to go so I always allow two hours to minimize the stress. Not everyone agrees, but I’ve found things go much better if I use the whole body scanner. That, along with Pre-check, has made my life so much easier. When I use the metal detector and set it off, they do a level of pat down that is a bit too “personal” for my taste. They even pulled out my waistband and looked down at my underwear. That got old fast. I didn’t even apply for Pre-check until they added a whole body scanner at that checkpoint. What I don’t understand is why it is so much easier to get through security in Europe. I dreaded it the first time because I knew they didn’t use the scanners, but they were so respectful that it was a completely different experience.

  • Tricia K

    That does make it more challenging. If I didn’t have joint replacements, I wouldn’t need the scanner. In most US airports now, the scanners aren’t used and I have to ask to use one. I’ve been told from
    A security perspective, they aren’t as good as the metal detectors.

  • Alan Gore

    It’s unfortunate for all of us, but after the first terrorist sets off a surgically implanted bomb, people with artificial joints will never be able to fly again.

  • cscasi

    Right. But, larger airports usually have more security entry points; hence the requirement for more TSA screeners. So, the wait time could be more or less depending on how busy the security point is. It does seem too long to have to wait, but we do not know the exact circumstances at that security checkpoint at that time.

  • Lindabator

    no – incorrect paperwork or insufficient time to clear TSA are specifically NOT covered, as you could have avoided by planning on suffuceunt time.

  • just me

    TSA did not behave as expected. 40 minute wait for the pat down? This was punitive behavior of TSA. In some places they do it and it is infuriating.
    And all this because of unexploded underwear of one psychopath.
    Those body scanners are useless and should be removed.
    Replace them with public strip downs.
    Complaint should also go to TSA Administration.
    Insurance – what a misnomer.

  • cscasi

    And, most have a prescribed time requirement, such as . “If you are delayed for 6 (or whatever the policy states), hours or more while enroute to or from, or during your trip, due to: ………

  • cscasi

    That depends on where you are in Europe. I have come back from areas of Europe where I was flying on an American carrier, got asked security questions before being allowed to approach the ticket counter,got a pat down, went through a magnetometer and then had my carry on thoroughly inspected ( item by item in the bag) while in the waiting area. .

  • cscasi

    I am certain the terrorists will appreciate your comment; especially if they haven’t already thought of that. and even if it was just ment as tongue in cheek comment.

  • Baelzar

    If you inconvenience the TSA, they will punish you. Also, why is this even an issue over $269 dollars? That’s worth less time than writing the article. FURTHERMORE, 2 hours is for normal domestic flights. 3 hours for Hawaii or other overseas flights.

  • disqus_wK5MCy17IP

    “Customer service” does not mean making an exception every time someone tells the right story. Not liking the response you receive does not mean you haven’t received customer service. It means the company is abiding by the mutual terms that a customer agreed to when deciding to do business with that company. This site also used to advocate for companies to respond to customer inquiries that were ignored. If the answer is still no, the response itself is still providing service to the customer.

  • Jadeveon Clowney

    How ridiculous. Not only is a surgically implanted bomb wildly unlikely, it’s even more unlikely to bring down a plane. And I’m sure terrorists are busy reading travel blogs for ideas they can’t come up with themselves.

  • Jadeveon Clowney

    I don’t understand. How would that help? Since when does the TSA care?

  • Jadeveon Clowney

    A lot of it is at the behest of the U.S. Certainly for U.S.-bound flights.

  • Gary K

    Richard, just to clarify, did you actually mean non-US airlines for international flights? The difference being that, for example, boarding passes for UA ex-US flights leaving from the international terminal at SFO have Pre-Check printed, and there is a Pre-Check line there.

  • tio2girl

    Well…it IS unreasonable (in my opinion), but maybe to be expected. Such is the way with air travel these days, sadly.

  • Éamon deValera

    Following a contract is not weaseling out of anything. The contract is available before you pay (or after you pay but can still get a full refund).

  • Éamon deValera

    If the insurance company ‘pays to avoid the hassle’ (they won’t trust me) then it would raise everyone’s premiums to cover the people who complain to regulators for claims that are legitimately denied.

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