The coronavirus is stifling travel plans, but it’s not the only thing that can go wrong when you’re traveling.
I’m writing this as I’m on hold with Cathay Pacific, a Hong Kong-based airline. I was planning to fly with them roundtrip to Bali, Indonesia, connecting both ways in Hong Kong. But due to the coronavirus, I’m now trying to get my flight rebooked or refunded. I’ve been waiting on hold for over an hour now, anxious to hear what my options and rights are as a customer of an airline whose hub is an at-risk area of the coronavirus (12 known cases in Hong Kong so far). Unexpected events like this reinforce the importance of having travel insurance. With it, your options and coverage are clearly defined; without it, you’re at the whim of an airline. Important to note: many travel insurance policies won’t necessarily cover a situation like the coronavirus – more on that later in this article.
Disclosure: In this article, I’m just providing my understanding and experiences relating to travel insurance in the context of the coronavirus. I’m not advocating for any specific travel insurance policies relating to this outbreak. Consider contacting your travel insurance provider to find out if your plan provides such coverage.
What the coronavirus means for travel plans to China and Kong Kong
On Friday, the US Government declared the coronavirus a public health emergency and imposed travel restrictions on those coming from mainland China, including up to a 14-day quarantine for U.S. citizens arriving from Hubei province. There are currently no flight bans relating to Hong Kong, as it’s not a part of mainland China. However, viruses don’t know geopolitical boundaries, and Hong Kong is considered one of the more ‘at-risk’ places. Some airlines are already canceling flights to HK, including American Airlines, the largest US carrier. Cathay Pacific hasn’t done so, yet, which is why I’m currently tangled in this predicament.
My flight to Bali leaves in four days, and the situation remains very fluid. I don’t want to find myself in a position where I’m subjected to a quarantine in Indonesia or the United States or barred from entry altogether. Perhaps (and hopefully) the coronavirus situation will improve in the next few days, and everything would be fine. But I’m a pretty risk-averse person, which is why I’m seeking to make changes to my flight booking.
Even if you’re not planning to visit China (or have a layover there) anytime soon, this should serve as a wake-up call to get travel insurance in order to be more prepared for unforeseen events.
Is the coronavirus covered under standard travel insurance?
Some travel insurance policies won’t cover a situation like the coronavirus outbreak. The reason? Travel insurance generally covers what has happened to you, not what may happen to you. If you’re planning to cancel a trip due to the possibility that you may contract a virus, that may not be accounted for by your travel insurance provider. Though other scenarios, such as a government-enforced quarantine, may be covered under more policies. There is one type of travel insurance that likely does cover this trip protection: CFAR Insurance.
CFAR insurance, which stands for “cancel for any reason” insurance, will cover you if you cancel a trip due to not wanting to assume a risk. Just like purchasing any type of insurance policies, be sure to read the fine print, though.
Travel insurance is a good idea for everyone, not just those traveling to ‘at-risk’ places
The coronavirus aside, getting travel insurance is important for anyone traveling, anytime, anywhere. A lot of things can go wrong when traveling, so it’s always a good idea to err on the side of caution and get coverage. Here are some important reasons to get travel insurance:
Final thoughts on the coronavirus relating to travel
Much about the coronavirus remains unknown, and the situation is evolving rapidly. Be sure to follow updates from reputable organizations like the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for travel advice and other important guidance.
Similar to past epidemics, the coronavirus’ expansion to countries outside of China is stoking fear amongst the international community. According to some news reporting on the matter, some of that energy is being funneled into hate, xenophobia, and racism toward Chinese people and other Asian nationalities (as was the case during the SARS epidemic in 2003). It’s important for all of us not to hold any prejudices or stereotypes against these groups of people, or anybody for that matter. Instead, let’s keep those affected by this tragedy in our thoughts and prayers. We’re all in this together.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”Mark Twain
As for my upcoming trip to Bali, I will most certainly be postponing it until the spring. It’s just a matter of whether I’m able to receive a full refund or other assistance in doing so.
UPDATE: I received my refund from Cathay Pacific, and will be postponing the trip (likely to 2021). Due to COVID-19, I am also likely to postpone other travel plans scheduled for May and June of this year. I hope everyone is doing well and staying safe.