Swine flu – does your travel insurance protect you?

As you look forward to your family’s summer trip this year, you’re probably wondering whether swine flu, or H1N1, could throw a spanner in the works.

Woman reading a book on a hammock at the beach
When it comes to travel insurance, protection levels do vary, so if you’re unsure about exactly what your policy will and will not cover then contact your insurer as soon as you can and find out.

In the meantime, here are some of the most commonly asked questions about swine flu and travel insurance. Hopefully these will answer your main worries about pandemic flu and how it could affect your holiday plans.

Should I travel?

If you are feeling at all ill with flu-like symptoms and are due to go on holiday, the advice from the Department of Health is not to travel.

Some airlines said they would not allow passengers to travel if they were displaying swine flu symptoms. That caused concern that staff with no medical training could reject passengers, who might then find it difficult to claim from their insurers.

However, since then, the European Union’s transport chief, Antonio Tajani, has explained that airlines can only ban sick passengers from travelling if they have a medical certificate or orders from a public health authority.

We spoke to Virgin Atlantic, which said there had never been a question of unqualified check-in staff turning people away. Instead, if anyone seems genuinely too ill to fly – whether with swine flu or any illness – medically-qualified staff will assess them and provide the required certificate.

The spokeswoman added that passengers do not need to bring ‘fit to fly’ certificates with them in order to board the plane.

Don’t forget, anyone heading to Europe should take their free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which will allow them to access free treatment if they fall ill. An application form for the cards is available at the Post Office, or by calling 0845 606 2030. You can also apply online at www.nhs.uk.


What if I can’t get a doctor’s note?

There has been some concern that insurers need doctors’ notes in order to reimburse people who don't set out on their trip because of swine flu.

Now that the virus has spread so much, GPs are very stretched and are asking people not to attend their surgery with the illness. In fact, by July 24th at the latest, a dedicated website and phone line will be up and running – to allow people to be diagnosed without going to their doctor.

However, it is unlikely that the helpline will be able to issue sick notes.

Malcolm Tarling, a spokesman for the Association of British Insurers, urged people to get in touch with their provider if they are having problems getting the paperwork sorted.

“People will need a doctor’s note confirming that they are unfit to travel to be able to make a claim for cancellation on their travel insurance. Insurers couldn’t accept self-diagnosis; that could encourage people to cancel their trip because they have a sniffle, or for any other reason, and were fit to travel.

“However, they do try to be pragmatic, so if you have a problem getting hold of a doctor’s note, then get on the phone to your insurance provider, explain your situation and ask them what they suggest.”

What if my family gets ill?

If anyone in your immediate family contracts the virus – and it is particularly prevalent among school kids – you’d probably decide to keep everyone at home.
The majority of travel insurance providers will cover the entire cost of cancelling a trip because of sickness, even if not everyone is ill. Of course, to be valid, the policy must be taken out before anyone gets sick.

However, as mentioned, cover does differ between providers and it is worth checking the small print of your policy now, so you have one less thing to worry about if you do have to cancel.

What if my tour operator cancels?

If your holiday or flights are cancelled because of swine flu then the company should offer alternative arrangements – perhaps a different but comparable trip – or a refund.

What if I choose not to fly?

The majority of swine flu cases have been mild and the Government has repeatedly urged people not to panic.

If you decide to cancel your holiday because you have concerns about getting ill, your insurer will almost certainly not reimburse you.

Of course, that is very different if Government officials have advised against travel to a certain place or region.



What if I am advised against travel?

If the Foreign & Commonwealth Office or World Health Organisation recommends you do not travel to your destination, it is important to find out exactly what your particular policy covers.

Many will reimburse holidaymakers – or transfer the cover to a different holiday if your tour operator offers you an alternative.

Some will not provide insurance if you do travel against government advice, meaning if you persist in your plans, you could find yourself without cover, even for lost baggage.

What if I don’t have travel insurance?

Buying travel insurance is a really sensible decision for those heading overseas this summer and any summer.

It does not just cover illness and cancellations, but also lost baggage, stolen property and a range of other possibilities.

Travel insurance is not costly; in fact, a family of four can get cover for a week in Spain for less than a tenner by comparing policies using our travel insurance comparison tool.

For more information on travel insurance read our article 'Why travel insurance is a must'.

What if I get ill while I’m away?

A standard travel insurance policy should cover additional accommodation and rearranged travel if you become ill while on holiday and end up being quarantined or refused flights.

However, it’s important to ask for written confirmation that you were quarantined if you want to make a claim.

Most policies will cover medical treatment while overseas, so if you do get ill, the policy should meet any extra costs. If you have your EHIC card with you in Europe then the country you’re in will treat you free of charge.

What if I have been exposed overseas ?

If you have returned from a country particularly affected by swine flu, the government recommends you monitor your health closely for one week, and use the NHS flu symptom checker (available online) if you develop a feverish illness alongside a sore throat, headache and muscle ache.

However, there is no need to isolate yourself as long as you’re feeling well.

You can call the Swine Flu Information Line on 0800 1 513 513 to hear the latest advice.

If you are still concerned, you can get advice on your symptoms from:

  • NHS Direct on 0845 4647 in England
  • NHS 24 on 08454 24 24 24 in Scotland
  • NHS Direct Wales on 0845 4647 in Wales
  • 0800 0514 142 in Northern Ireland

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