'Hospital trip cost me a missed flight and £3,000 – now my insurer won't pay'

A reader was forced to miss a flight with a medical problem - GETTY

Martyn Beable writes

On April 3, my wife and I were due to fly from London to Windhoek in Namibia with South African Airways (SAA). We were to check in at Heathrow no later than 5pm.

Around 9.30am on the morning of our departure, I started to experience flashing lights and cloudy shapes scudding across my left eye. Obviously this caused me concern and I managed to get an emergency appointment with my GP in Bristol. 

He arranged for me to see an optometrist, who diagnosed a “posterior vitreous detachment” and could not clear me as fit to fly because there was a chance changes in air pressure on the flight might result in a detached retina.

I was told to see a specialist at Bristol Eye Hospital before flying anywhere. We loaded up the car and drove to the hospital. After some time, I was examined by a specialist, who confirmed the diagnosis but said he saw no evidence of retinal detachment and cleared me to fly. 

We left the hospital at 4pm and attempted to get to Heathrow in time for our flight. It soon became quite clear that, despite our best efforts, we would miss the check-in deadline. 

After a discussion with SAA and our travel agent while on the road, we were told we would be put down as “no shows” and would have to buy new tickets. Our replacement return flights to Windhoek cost a total of £3,071 and we flew out the next day.

On contacting our insurer, Coverwise, on April 4, we were told we were not covered for this type of cancellation. On our return we asked Axa Insurance, which underwrites the Coverwise policy, to review our claim, but without success. In its response Axa said that we would only have been covered if we had cancelled the whole trip because of my eye condition, but our particular circumstances did not meet any of its curtailment criteria. Do you agree? 

A trip to Namibia was delayed, costing a reader more than £3,000 Credit: GETTY
Gill Charlton, consumer correspondent, replies

Your policy wording states that Axa will pay up to £2,000 per insured person for any “irrecoverable unused travel and accommodation costs... if cancellation of the trip or one-way trip is necessary and unavoidable as a result of... bodily injury, illness, disease...” I put it to Axa that this wording could be interpreted as covering the cost of your replacement flights. 

I also felt the insurer should take into account your sterling efforts to mitigate your losses by getting clearance to fly within hours. After all, you could have cancelled the entire holiday once the optometrist said she could not confirm you were fit to fly. 

You had also bought Axa’s enhanced “silver” travel cover. With a higher level of cover, there is also an argument that the insurer should be more generous in honouring the spirit rather than the precise wording in the policy document. 

Axa has now reviewed your claim and says that, on reflection, it feels it should uphold it. It will now be paid in full on receipt of documentation supporting your claim from the medical staff involved.