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Trip cancellation and repatriation: what insurance at the end of the line?

A hot potato for card issuers and insurers: how does insurance work in the event of travel cancellation or repatriation linked to coronavirus? Difficult to have a clear answer.

Border controls or closings, airport closings, flight suspensions, travel restriction recommendations: announcements that predict a planetary lockdown are causing migraines for assistance companies.

“Today, the most delicate subject is our compatriots who are abroad and how we can repatriate them: under what deadlines and under what conditions,” said Friday Thierry Martel, CEO of Groupama, whose the Mutuaide Assistance subsidiary operates in passenger assistance.

“The subject arose this week with holidaymakers on boats on the Nile for which it was necessary to organize the repatriation,” he explained, adding that the question also arose for “all children on internship or in training abroad “.

Can a traveler be repatriated if he is infected or if one of his children who remained in France is? Or if it is in a country that has closed its borders? So many unanswered questions.

“The exceptional and constantly changing situation prevents us from responding in a precise manner,” acknowledges the National Union of Assistance Societies (SNSA), representative of almost the entire profession.

“Each case is different and for each of them the assistant applies to provide the best support within the framework of the contractual provisions (and) taking into account particular circumstances” such as the patient's condition, government instructions or those of the country of travel, he details in a statement sent to AFP.

Its nine member companies must also manage the consequences of government measures on their own organization, he adds.

Behind the scenes, those called “assistants” are currently coordinating their modus operandi and exchanging information with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“All the major aid companies meet regularly at the Quai d'Orsay to see case by case and country by country how we repatriate our compatriots,” explains the boss of Groupama.

In 2018, these professionals had tested for the first time after the Lombok earthquake (Indonesia) a crisis unit designed with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to manage “large-scale events taking place abroad” and involving French nationals .

For the time being, this cell has not been activated, nor the “epidemic plan” activated in particular in 2006 during the H1N1 flu. “Today, mass repatriations are paid for by the French state,” explains the SNSA.

– The asterisk puzzle –

As for whether the trip cancellation and repatriation insurance included in the high-end bank cards Visa and Mastercard work in times of coronavirus, it is a challenge.

The American financial services giants, part of whose reputation is based on these insurance guarantees, refer to the contractual provisions provided … by the card-issuing banks.

“The banks are the masters of the situation, they take out insurance,” said a spokesperson for Mastercard to AFP. Coast banks, a spokesperson for a large establishment supposes the opposite, another refuses to respond to requests from AFP when the other returns to Visa.

Crédit Agricole reacted by explaining to extend to high-end card holders who are “vulnerable” to the coronavirus the epidemic risk guarantee already included in “super-premium” cards for journeys purchased before March 1.

However, the actual coverage of bank cards will be difficult for customers to decrypt, their conditions spanning dozens of pages and asterisks with unintelligible phrasing.

Some certainties, however: a client who is suddenly sick or the victim of a serious accident proving his medical incapacity to travel may trigger his cancellation insurance. While in case of border closure, no chance of being reimbursed by his card.

“If a card holder wishes to cancel or modify his itinerary, he must contact the travel professionals with whom he made his reservation to inquire about the conditions of modification or cancellation”, replied in writing to AFP on giant American Visa.

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