Rushing for cover: IRA blitz leads to explosion of claims for extra travel costs

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AIRLINE passengers whose flights were delayed or scrapped after the IRA's mortar attacks on Heathrow Airport last week will have been scanning the fine print of their insurance policies to check if they were covered in such cases.

For many the delays will have added to the cost of their outward-bound journeys, as they were forced to meet the cost of meals and, in some cases, overnight accommodation.

Inward-bound passengers will also have faced extra expense when they were diverted to other airports and found they had missed their train or other connection home.

But if the response from airlines and insurers is anything to go by, it is probably better to be bombed on the way out rather than on the return journey from holiday. While airlines have procedures to cope with delays or cancelled planes, their responsibility ends when they deliver people to their airport destination.

British Airways said: 'We are providing a service to those who fly with us and we aim to take care of all our passengers. If there is a delay, we will provide drink or food vouchers, depending on how long it will last.

'If it looks as if it is an overnight delay, then we arrange for hotels where people can stay and we pay. We will do our utmost to assist people to catch other flights if they have missed their connection. Our job is to get people from A to B. Should a plane be late in the UK we will do everything in our power to get people to their flight destination. If this means hiring coaches, we will. We have even hired trains in the past.'

But a spokesman added that while each case is considered on its merits, an airline's responsibility is to get passengers to the airport specified in the ticket. After that, they are, in effect, on their own.

Virgin Atlantic Airways said: 'The basic rule is that no airline is liable for terrorist attacks. There is also the question of whether an airline should be liable for circumstances which are not our fault or within our control. That said, we would feel a duty to offer solutions to travellers stranded as a result of any delay. This would include calling relatives or friends who are due to meet incoming or outgoing travellers to let them know of flight delays. It might involve contacting other travel organisations to arrange a new train or plane reservations if need be.'

Additional out-of-pocket expenses, such as a change of shirt or top, underwear, or other immediate needs, might also be met by Virgin.

Commercial Union provides cover through the Travellers Insurance Association, selling its policies in travel agents. An average of 10,000 people at any one time, or 3.5 million each year, are insured through TIA.

A spokesman said: 'We always say that each case is determined on its merits. Different travel agents will have slightly different wordings or cover.

'Generally, the troubles at Heathrow will have caused us to pay pounds 20 for the first 12 hours' delay, plus a further pounds 10 for each subsequent 12 hours, up to a maximum of pounds 60.'

He stressed this is not compensation for the delay itself but meeting the costs of meals and other expenses.

TIA policies also offer pounds 400 towards getting to a destination if a holiday flight has been missed because of a delay in public transport taking the passenger to the airport. While a broken-down car would be covered, a traffic delay would not. If anyone is killed at any stage during a holiday, pounds 10,000 is payable to dependants, with smaller sums for injuries to limbs.

The spokesman said, however, that passengers flying back home should not expect to be compensated if their flight is delayed because of events like last week's mortar attack. 'It is generally held that people's holidays are over when they land at the airport. If the delay causes them inconvenience, there is very little that an insurance company can do about it.'

A small number of travel policies have exclusions that mean it is not possible to claim for outward-bound delays caused by terrorism.

In the case of Lunn Poly, however, its insurance company, Bishopsgate, says all passengers were covered because of a clause that specifies that 'isolated' acts are covered.

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