Insurance claim denied because of … air traffic?

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By Christopher Elliott

Arthur Ruffino’s travel insurance claim is a real heartbreaker, for several reasons.

First, he did everything he could to make sure he was covered by his CSA policy, but was still denied.

Second, his well-reasoned appeal went nowhere. And finally, even though I agreed that his case should be granted another review, the insurance company dug in its heels.

“Passengers who think that they are buying peace of mind when they purchase trip interruption insurance should be forewarned that their claims may be denied — even if the interruptions are beyond their control, such as canceled or delayed flights,” says Ruffino.

Grounded expectations

The origin of the claim is a delayed Air China flight from Chengdu to Beijing. It caused him to miss his connection to an Air Mongolia flight, which considered him a “no show.” He had to buy a new ticket and flew to his final destination the following day.

“Despite the frustrations that I experienced, there was one consolation,” he says. “I had purchased travel insurance which covered trip interruption. Therefore, I knew that I would at least be reimbursed for the new airline ticket.”

But that’s not what happened.

When I returned home, I contacted CSA and informed the company of the incident.

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I was sent a claim form to fill out. I accomplished the form and submitted it with the requested documents. Later, I was asked to provide a credit card statement showing that I had purchased a new ticket, despite the fact that I had already sent them a copy of the new ticket, as well as a document from Air China noting that my original flight had been canceled.

Some days later, I received a letter from CSA. I assumed it was a reimbursement check. Instead, to my shock, I learned that my claim had been denied.

The letter stated, “Two of your flights with Air China were delayed, causing you to miss your connecting flight with Air Mongolia. We spoke with a representative at Air China who advised us both delays were due to air traffic control….As the reason for your trip interruption was not due to a covered event, no benefits are payable for your claim.”

That seems like a gaping loophole. Under that scenario, CSA could conceivably deny almost any claim, because airlines routinely blame “air traffic” for delays that are caused by weather or mechanical problems. Even so, it shouldn’t matter — a delay is a delay, after all. Right? (Related: Two days in sick bay cost me $5,929. Why won’t my travel insurance pay?)

Wrong. My advocacy team and I contacted CSA and asked if they were certain of their decision.

Insurance turbulence

They were. Here’s what a representative told me.

CSA’s policy clearly states coverage is afforded only in instances due to weather, strike or mechanical breakdown. I believe this is standard in most travel insurance policies.

Insurance plans are built to cover and exclude specific items. Because everything has to be spelled out in order to provide coverage, there are many items which are not covered and, unfortunately, air traffic control is one of those.

I’ve been mediating insurance disputes for many years and I have to admit, I was unaware of this exclusion, or that it was an industry “standard.” (Just because it’s a “standard” doesn’t make it right.)

Ruffino is unhappy with the response — as am I. (Here’s our ultimate guide to finding travel insurance.)

The fact remains that no reason has been provided by Air China for the action taken by air traffic control.

Could weather have been a factor? And is it possible that air traffic control is a convenient scapegoat for air problems in China?

How do visitors to China protect themselves? Certainly this gap in coverage needs to be addressed.

I agree. To have an adjuster call Air China and have a representative blame “air traffic” seems like a flimsy excuse to deny a claim made in good faith.

Ruffino thought he was protected, and that’s an assumption I would have made, too.

Should CSA have denied this claim?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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