Update on laptops in carryons. North Korea travelban. Trip-cancellation/interruption claims caveat.

By: David Tykol
This article appears on page 2 of the September 2017 issue.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 499th issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine.

This is your magazine in that, if you are a subscriber, you can submit letters, articles and photographs to be printed here. Tell us about a really nice place to stay or an interesting day trip — or about something you feel should be avoided — or just express your feelings on a particular issue related to travel.

We do not print in ITN information about destinations in the United States, but, other than that, there isn’t much that won’t be covered in this magazine on the subject of travel. 

ITN offers a mix of experiences, recommendations and viewpoints in the pages of each issue. That’s because the people submitting letters and articles range from budget travelers on up to those who prefer luxury accommodations. And they include independent travelers, tour takers, cruise lovers, trailblazers…. You name it!

If you’re reading an issue of ITN for the first time, see if you can get through this copy without learning how to save a few bucks, reading about a place you’d like to visit or finding out how to avoid a hassle on a trip. Something you read may make you think or just bring a smile to your face.

Then consider that, with a one-year subscription to ITN, the cost works out to less than $2.25 per month. It’s a minuscule investment that can be repaid many times over in more cost-effective, more enjoyable travels. And subscribing is easy; see page 9 for how to get delivery started.

OK, time to deliver the news…

Here’s an update on something I wrote about in the May and August issues.

After the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) banned electronics larger than a cell phone in carryons aboard flights to the US by nine Middle East-based airlines in March, on June 28 the DHS instituted stricter rules for screening carryon luggage on ALL airlines’ flights into the US, warning that if the new rules were not followed, more airlines would face bans on electronics in carryons or, in some cases, bans on electronics entirely. 

At the same time, the DHS promised that, even on the airlines on which electronics had previously been banned in carry-ons, they would be allowed if the new guidelines were met.

True to their word, on July 20 the DHS removed the restrictions on electronics in carryons aboard the flights of all nine of those airlines. Passengers on EgyptAir, Emirates, Etihad, Kuwait Airways, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian Airlines, Saudia and Turkish Airlines now are free to carry their tablets and laptops on board.

As reported in ITN last month (page 63), on June 13 the government of North Korea returned to the US the American tourist Otto Warmbier, who had been imprisoned in that country since being arrested on charges of “crimes against the state” in January 2016. He had been sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor. At the time of his return, Mr. Warmbier was in a coma. He died a week later.

North Korean officials suggested that the coma was caused by a combination of sleeping pills and a botulism infection. However, US doctors doubted that that was the case. No autopsy was performed, and no official cause of death was determined.

Mr. Warmbier died on June 20, and, soon after, the US Department of State hinted that it might restrict, or even ban, travel to North Korea in response to the condition in which Mr. Warmbier was returned and because North Korea continues to detain three other US citizens. 

On Aug. 1, the US Department of State announced that it was almost completely banning travel to North Korea by US citizens, effective 30 days from that date, giving those already in that country time to leave before enforcement began.

As of Sept. 1, US passports are no longer valid for travel to or within North Korea, and any American who wishes to travel there must get special dispensation beforehand.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert described the impetus for the ban as “mounting concerns over serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement…”

Here’s a lesson generated from an ITN subscriber.

Many of you will buy travel insurance policies with trip-cancellation/interruption coverage, meaning that if you have to cancel or cut short your trip because you have (or a family member who is also covered under your policy has) a mishap or medical problem that is covered under the policy, you may be reimbursed for any losses incurred.

Such coverage is common in travel insurance policies, and the term “trip-cancellation/interruption” is well known.

Of course, if a mishap causes you to cancel your trip anytime between the date you purchased the insurance and the first day of your trip, you would file a trip-cancellation claim, and if the mishap occurs while you are on your trip, you would file a trip-interruption claim. But there is something you should be aware of before you consider filing a claim.

Whether your claim will be paid or denied can depend on whether the mishap is considered a preexisting condition or not (unless your policy includes a “preexisting-condition waiver,” in which case you wouldn’t have to worry about that), and what your insurer defines as “preexisting” can differ based on which of the two types of claims you are making. This is what Ronald P. Merlo of Glendale, California, found out. His experience was among those outlined in readers’ letters under the heading “Travel Insurance Claim Denied” in the July 2016 issue.

Mr. Merlo described how, in February 2014, three weeks before he and his wife left for an Amazon River cruise, his father — who, up until then, had appeared healthy — was diagnosed with terminal cancer. 

Initially, having purchased travel insurance from Travel Guard (800/826-5248, www.travelguard.com) before the trip, Mr. Merlo considered canceling their cruise and making a trip-cancellation claim, but his father, who was expected to possibly live another six months, insisted that he and his wife take the trip.

While on the cruise, Mr. Merlo received word that his father’s condition had significantly worsened, and he and his wife decided to interrupt their trip to go home and assist with his father’s end-of-life care. 

His father died a week or so later, and Mr. Merlo eventually submitted a trip-interruption claim with Travel Guard. But the insurer denied the claim, stating that his father had had a preexisting condition. (There was no waiver of the preexisting-condition clause in the policy Mr. Merlo had purchased.) 

As Mr. Merlo wrote, regarding his correspondence with his claims adjuster about his trip-interruption claim, “I reviewed the General Exclusions Section of the policy, which stated that there would be no payment for any injury, sickness or other condition which ‘within the 180-day period immediately preceding and including the Insured’s coverage effective date first manifested itself, worsened or became acute…’.”

He continued: “I again summarized all of the information that I had previously sent and emphasized that there had been no preexisting condition within the 180-day period before the policy had been purchased (which I considered to be the effective date of the policy).”

However, an email that Mr. Merlo received in November 2014 from a claims adjuster at AIG, which underwrites Travel Guard’s insurance policies, explained why his father’s condition was considered preexisting.

The adjuster wrote, “The coverage effective date for the Trip Interruption benefit is the day you departed on your trip… So the condition your father was being seen for is considered pre-existing to this coverage effective date and not covered.”

What this clearly states is that if the medical condition of the insured or a family member causes the traveler to interrupt his trip and file a claim, the claim will be denied if the medical condition was diagnosed before the first day of the trip.

In contrast, if the medical condition of the insured or a family member causes the traveler to cancel his trip and file a claim, the claim will be denied if the medical condition existed within the 180 days before the insurance policy was purchased.

While Mr. Merlo’s father’s cancer was undiagnosed at the time Mr. Merlo purchased the insurance — and Mr. Merlo could have collected on a claim for trip cancellation and recouped all expenses if he had only canceled his upcoming trip — the cancer WAS a preexisting condition at the time Mr. Merlo started his trip, and he could not then cut his trip short and successfully file a trip-interruption claim.

The fact that no one had any idea of the illness at the time the policy was purchased made no difference when the trip-interruption claim was filed. Of course, Mr. and Mrs. Merlo could not have known that his father’s condition would worsen, but, again, if they had wanted to guarantee that they would not lose their investment, they should have canceled their upcoming trip and filed the appropriate claim.

When you consider that most travel insurance policies refer to “trip interruption/cancellation” practically as a single term, as a unit, it is understandable that Mr. Merlo did not fully grasp that the “effective date” for a trip-cancellation claim is a different date than the “effective date” for a trip-interruption claim.

ITN reviewed the emails sent by Travel Guard to Mr. Merlo after his claim was denied, and it was understandable why he was confused. In their replies, each time a company representative referred to trip interruption and the condition that was preexisting to the effective date, the rep also went on to — irrelevantly in his case — refer to trip cancellation and the fact that the effective date was the date of policy purchase.

ITN sent Travel Guard a copy of the above summary, and a representative confirmed that it “accurately describes the coverage.”

If you find yourself in a situation similar to Mr. Merlo’s before a trip, contact your insurer to find out what you are covered for before deciding your course of action.

CORRECTIONs to note —

• Back in the March 2017 issue, I wrote about monetary awards being made to passengers who experienced cancellations of, or lengthy delays on, flights to, from or within the European Union (EU). I wrote, “… to be awarded the compensation, the flight must be on an EU-registered airline flying to or from an airport within the EU. So you will not be able to claim compensation for the delay of your flight on a US carrier, even if the flight is to or from the EU.”

That was incorrect, as ITN subscriber Harvey Lampert describes in this issue (page 14). He successfully applied for and collected a 600 award from United Airlines after his flight from Dublin, Ireland, to Washington, DC, was canceled. 

ANY flight DEPARTING from an airport in the EU is under a legal obligation to award passengers if it is canceled or sufficiently delayed (except in the case of “extraordinary circumstances”), even if the carrier is not based in the EU. Only EU-based airlines are required to pay awards to passengers for delays or cancellations of flights that are departing from non-EU airports.

• In July, I introduced to you Mark Gallo, with his column “The Mindful Traveler.” Mark now can consider himself duly initiated as an ITN Contributing Editor, as a subscriber has already pointed out an error in one of his articles.

Theodore Liebersfeld of Boynton Beach, Florida, wrote, “Mark Gallo’s article ‘Tipping Abroad’ (July ’17, pg. 53) is interesting and helpful. However, I noticed a contradiction in the Middle East section. 

“It states, ‘In Dubai, Egypt, Israel and Jordan, a service charge is usually included on the restaurant bill,’ while the next paragraph begins, ‘In Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, service charges are not included in restaurants…’

“As far as I know, Dubai is still one of the emirates in the UAE.”

ITN editors (myself included) should have caught that. Mark confirms that the two sentences should have been worded as follows: “In Egypt, Israel, Jordan and the UAE, a service charge is usually included on the restaurant bill” and “In Qatar and Saudi Arabia, service charges are not included in restaurants….”

ITN subscriber Carol Greene has an information request. She wrote, “When taking a tour to another country, one thing I don’t like is going through airports and spending a whole night or more on a plane and then being in the new country for just one or two weeks.

“When my husband was alive, rather than take tours, we went by ourselves and spent three or more weeks in each country. It was wonderful because we had time to get a feel for the people and their cultures and we saw everything we wished, plus we shopped.

“I would like recommendations from travelers for any tour companies that offer tours of more than two weeks anywhere outside of the US. What are some of the lengthy, in-depth tours in this wonderful world?

“And if someone is going to suggest a 2-week tour plus a pre- or post-trip, I should add that the two or three extra days just don’t hack it when one of those days includes going to the airport and more flying.” 

Have a recommendation for Carol? Email editor@intltravelnews.com or write to Lengthy Foreign Tours Wanted, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Responses will be forwarded to Carol and printed in a later issue.

Florence Erickson of Parrish, Florida, wrote, “I have been meaning to do this for a year and finally am sending you my ‘best friend’ lists. I’ve been a subscriber for several years and want those I love to know about your great publication.”

Florence sent in the names and addresses of 40 people, each of whom will be sent a free sample copy of the next-printed issue. (Their addresses will go to our subscription department but will not be shared with any other firm.)

Florence also wrote, “Please send me 25 postcards to distribute on my next trip.”

She’s referring to postcards with ITN’s contact info and instructions on how to get a free sample copy or a free 2-month trial of the Online Edition of ITN. We will send a number of postcards to you for free to distribute to travelers you meet. (Postcards are easy to pack and carry. Just ask for them!)

Florence finished her note with, “I plan to buy ITN gift subscriptions as Christmas gifts toward the end of this year. Thank you for your marvelous work!”

Next month will be ITN’s 500th issue, and we owe our longevity to ALL of you who have supported, promoted and written to ITN over all these years.

Thank you.