Lessons we can learn from Terminal Five foul-up

With outlets from Boots to Harrods and even a Gordon Ramsay restaurant, Heathrow's £4.3bn Terminal Five was supposed to put the glamour back into air travel. Instead, a breakdown of the baggage handling system left thousands of customers to choose between flying with just hand luggage, getting an alternative flight or claiming a refund.

The problems went from bad to worse and by the end of the fifth day more than 300 flights had been cancelled with British Airways (BA) forced to place a reported 28,000 bags into temporary storage – and it could take weeks for the luggage to be sorted and returned to its rightful owner.

Clearly the meltdown at Terminal Five, blamed on everything from staff confusion to an overflowing car park, wasn’t the fault of the stranded travellers – but they may have to pay the price unless they had suitable travel insurance in place.

The importance of the right level of baggage cover
Much of the responsibility for your baggage falls on the airline rather than the travel insurer. For example, if your luggage is not recovered it is the airline’s responsibility to cover the initial costs – as it is for any baggage that is lost on the flight.

However, a good travel insurance policy can offer you reassurance. Most policies will cover the cost of essential items that need to be purchased and any additional expenses not covered by the airline.

It’s vital for travellers to ensure they have the right level of cover in place – in the Moneysupermarket travel insurance money-saving tips we broadly recommend around £1,500 of baggage cover. However, this should be adjusted depending on how much the contents of your baggage are actually worth.

For example, a family of four booking annual worldwide travel insurance could pay as little as £41.90 for cover with Top Dog travel insurance but only pick up £500 of baggage cover which is unlikely to be enough for four people. By contrast, the same family could pay even less for annual worldwide cover through Marcus Hearn (£40.30) and yet have up to £3,000 of baggage protected. 

The key is to check exactly what’s offered and also to thoroughly read through the insurer’s terms and conditions to look for exclusions.

Many insurers place limits on the value of individual items and some will exclude items such as jewellery, photographic equipment and sports equipment. Often this can be covered through the personal possessions element of your home contents cover.

If you decide to take something valuable with you when you go away, it is advisable to carry it in your hand luggage so you can keep it with you at all times.

Don’t be stung by cancellations
It’s vital to ensure you’re covered for cancellations too – and remember this only applies once your policy starts. According to Moneysupermarket research, nearly half (47%) of travellers wait until the last week to book cover. This means they would miss out if something unexpected occurred – such as a death or serious illness in the family – between booking the holiday and taking out insurance. The best advice therefore, is to take out travel insurance as soon as you book your holiday.

However, don’t just grab the first policy you find at the cheapest price – take a look at the terms and conditions applicable for cancellation and curtailment. Also look at the level of cover offered to recoup your expenses during a delayed period – for example, More Than offers customers £20 after 12 hours delay and an additional £20 for every six hours thereafter.

Most travel insurance policies will specify circumstances in which your flight can be cancelled. Only in these instances will you be returned any non-refundable deposits you paid in advance.

With an increasing number of people opting to book their flights and accommodation separately, rather than going for a package deal, what happens if your flight is cancelled and you have to pay for car hire or accommodation you haven’t used?

Unfortunately, many insurance policies fall short on this as most travel insurers will only cover you for additional accommodation that is required, such as spending a night at a hotel near the airport (and in many instances the airline will foot the bill for this anyway).

However, don’t assume that you’ll be covered by your airline. BA is offering alternative flights or refunds to passengers delayed between March 27 and April 2, and is offering to compensate passengers for hotel accommodation, transport costs, food and drink. However, this might not be the case with every airline – passengers involved in the Terminal Five fiasco can read BA’s terms and conditions here.

If additional accommodation is required, you will need a letter or some form of documented proof from your carrier stating the details of the delay before you make a claim.

Tips if something goes wrong on your holiday
There are many steps you can take to both avoid the holiday nightmares experienced at Terminal Five and to deal with them if the worst does happen. Here are our top tips:

  • Clearly tag your baggage – this should include your name, your flight number, your departure and arrival destinations and the date of your flight.

  • Place your name and address inside the top of your suitcase in case it needs to be opened by baggage handlers.

  • Check your airline’s baggage policy thoroughly to ensure your bags are within the weight and size limits.

  • Shop around for travel insurance and check the details of each policy. Check the terms and conditions to ensure there are no exclusions that would affect you.

  • If a delay occurs, get written confirmation from your airline as to the reasons for and the length of the delay in case a travel insurance claim is necessary.

  • Keep receipts of any expenses you are forced to make as a result of a delay.

  • If your flight is cancelled, ask your airline for a refund or an alternative flight.

  • If your flight is delayed, approach your airline for compensation for accommodation, meals and refreshments.

  • Contact your travel insurer as soon as possible to make sure you are covered for any additional problems.

Disclaimer: Please note that any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing.

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