Not all travel risks are created equal in the eyes of insurance underwriters. There are a number of high-risk activities that will not be covered by most travel insurance policies, and those activities are usually cataloged in the terms of the policy. Before you book that scuba package or plan on skydiving, you should be sure to read the fine print in your policy. By way of example, let’s look at the recent climbing disaster in the Himalayas from a travel insurance perspective.
Last week an avalanche in Nepal killed eight climbers trying to complete a late-season climb to reach the peak of Everest. The CNN news story reports:
An avalanche, such as the one that killed at least eight climbers in Nepal this weekend, is known in mountaineering circles as an objective hazard — a risk that you cannot control and one all climbers must accept.
This kind of risk is NOT covered by travel insurance. It may seem obvious, but there are a number of activities that won’t be covered by your travel insurance policy, including riding, driving or participating in races, or speed or endurance contests, mountaineering/mountain climbing, participating in an organized sporting competition, skydiving, hang gliding, bungee cord jumping, or scuba diving, or piloting or learning to pilot any aircraft. Other types of sporting activities usually are covered, such as skiing or snowboarding, although in the case of extreme skier Glen Plake, who survived the Everest avalanche, I don’t think skiing down Mount Everest would be covered.
However, it still makes sense to purchase travel insurance because other aspects of your extreme vacation would be covered, such as transportation. If you plan to go helicopter skiing, for example, the helicopter trip itself probably would be covered by travel insurance, and the actual skiing descent may be covered as long as you are not mountain climbing. In the case of our Everest example, rescue efforts were delayed by a plane crash in Kathmandu that killed19 rescue workers. The twin engine plane struck a bird shortly after takeoff, crashing and killing all on board. This kind of disaster would be covered by travel insurance, since it is considered a genuine accident and not the result of risk-based activity.
There are policies specifically designed to cover extreme sports and dangerous vacation activities, and if that’s your area of interest, then you might consider them. In any case, having travel insurance is always a good idea.
Consider the case of a friend of mine who had been looking forward to a scuba vacation. He had picked an exotic destination in Mexico and had chartered a boat to get to the perfect spot. During the boat voyage, he fell down a companionway and broke his arm. Fortunately, he had travel insurance and the medical expenses were covered because he was on the boat, in transit to the destination where he was going to dive. If he had gotten hurt under water or during the dive itself, he wouldn’t have been covered.
Most travelers who enjoy extreme activities understand the risks involved and are more than willing to sign the waiver forms and accept those risks. However, to be clear about your degree of coverage, take the time to read the insurance terms and understand what’s covered. That way you know the risks if you decide at the last minute white water rafting in the Rockies or parasailing in Acapulco looks like a good idea.