Will travel insurance save you if there’s a WestJet strike? it depends

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WestJet has started to cancel flights as talks with the pilots’ union remained at a “critical impasse,” the company said in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, May 18, 2023.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

As WestJet begins canceling flights ahead of a possible pilot’s strike on Friday morning, not all travel insurers will be taking care of fliers equally.

A document from Manulife states that passengers flying with WestJet will only be eligible for trip cancellation or interruption coverage if they purchased their policy before April 18, which is when WestJet pilots voted in favor of a strike mandate.

The document sent to insurance brokers states Manulife considers the strike a “known event,” which insurers will not provide coverage for, from that date.

Explainer: How WestJet pilots’ strike notice could affect your travel plans

However, the known event date differs heavily from insurance providers such as Allianz and Tugo, which said in documents that the strike became a known event on May 15, when pilots issued a 72-hour strike notice.

Will McAleer, executive director of the Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada, said insurers can sometimes vary on the date that something becomes a known event, but the amount that Manulife differs from some other insurers is larger than usual.

“The date can vary between insurers but I would not expect it to be as significant,” said Mr. McAleer. “It would seem to be a little long, I would wonder what basis they make that date on.”

Manulife did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Martin Firestone, president of Toronto-based insurance brokerage Travel Secure, also said it was unusual that Manulife was choosing to call the strike a known event from April 18, when a strike seemed less likely.

“I’m surprised that they’d call it a known event when it was not even close to being a reality,” said Mr. Firestone, who said travelers would expect the strike to become a known event only when a strike notice is issued.

People who are eligible to make an insurance claim would be using trip cancellation or trip interruption coverage, which can cover extra costs for things such as accommodation, food and alternative transportation if incurred as a result of a canceled or delayed flight. It can also cover travelers if the canceled flight affects other vacation plans, such as a cruise.

However, Mr. Firestone warned that travelers can’t “double dip” when it comes to receiving compensation. That means fliers will have to seek compensation from their airlines first, and then look to their insurers to cover any additional costs that airlines won’t pay for.

Mr. Firestone said the people likely to incur the most costs are travelers who are at their destination and are trying to get home.

“The poor guys who are in another country or continent who have to leave to Canada … they’re going to incur tremendous costs in terms of hotels, food, and hopefully not have to pay through the nose for airfare,” said Mr. . Firestone.

Mr. McAleer said there may be situations in which other airlines come in and provide a way for stranded travelers to get home if a long strike does take place. In that scenario, he expects travelers will be dealing with clogged phone lines as they deal with insurers and airlines.

Meanwhile, Mr. Firestone said he’s seen sales climb by roughly 70 per cent on certain travel insurance products, as travelers brace for another chaotic summer of airlines dealing with staffing problems as they try to offer ambitious flight schedules.

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