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Insurance - - CONTENTS - Source: Times of In­dia, 24th March

KOLKATA: The ag­o­niz­ing sus­pense over the dis­ap­pear­ance of a Malaysia Air­lines Boe­ing 777-200 ER air­craft with 239 pas­sen­gers and crew has left air trav­ellers so rat­tled that sev­eral have can­celled travel plans till the mys­tery is solved. Those who can­not avoid travel are scur­ry­ing for in­sur­ance cover just in case some­thing hap­pens. "In the last few days, we have wit­nessed a sharp rise in pur­chase of travel in­sur­ance by fliers to South East Asia. The mys­tery sur­round­ing the dis­ap­pear­ance of flight MH370 that was fly­ing from Kuala Lumpur to Bei­jing ap­pears to have trig­gered the panic pur­chase," said Na­tional In­sur­ance Co gen­eral man­ager S Bhat­tacharya. While it is manda­tory for trav­ellers to Amer­ica, Canada, UK and Aus­tralia to pur­chase med­i­cal in­sur­ance, those fly­ing to South East Asia or Gulf rarely bought in­sur­ance. That trend, Bhat­tacharya hoped, would change from now on. "In­sur­ance is a pro­tec­tion against ail­ments and mishaps that can be fi­nan­cially drain­ing when one has to spend in for­eign cur­rency. In ad­di­tion, the pol­icy of­fers pro­tec­tion against a host of other un­for­tu­nate oc­cur­rences like in­or­di­nate flight de­lay, bag­gage loss, ac­ci­dent or even hi­jack," Bhat­tacharya pointed out. The cover on hi­jack dis­tress al­lowance is an added one at Na­tional In­sur­ance but is part of the ba­sic plan at If­f­coTokio and Ba­jaj Al­lianz. While a per­son can in­sure one­self against a plane ac­ci­dent for $10,000-$25,000 by pay­ing a sin­gle pre­mium of Rs 1,105-1,712, he or she can also get $50/day dis­tress al­lowance for four­six days in case of hi­jack. Seven in 10 in­ter­na­tional pas­sen­gers from Kolkata travel to the re­gion, ei­ther on leisure or busi­ness or a com­bi­na­tion of both, with Thai­land the no.1 des­ti­na­tion fol­lowed by Malaysia and Sin­ga­pore. Travel Agents' Fed­er­a­tion of In­dia chair­man Anil Pun­jabi, who has been ad­vis­ing pas­sen­gers to pur­chase in­sur­ance, says fliers are scared. "Ev­ery­one is jit­tery. Un­less the mys­tery over flight MH370 is re­solved and we get a ra­tio­nal ex­pla­na­tion, the sense of un­ease will re­main. The sit­u­a­tion was okay in the first few days be­cause the air­craft was pre­sumed to have crashed. But as the mys­tery re­mains un­solved and spec­u­la­tions do the rounds, the sit­u­a­tion is be­com­ing grave," he said. Many have sim­ply lost the ap­petite for travel. Busi­ness­woman Anita Nankani, a fre­quent trav­eler to South East Asia and Gulf, has just post­poned her trip to Dubai be­cause she does not feel con­fi­dent about air travel at the mo­ment. "I was sup­posed to go to Dubai but am ex­tremely skep­ti­cal since the Malaysia Air­lines flight's dis­ap­pear­ance. How can such a large air­craft dis­ap­pear in this age? I want to know what hap­pened to the air­craft and the people in it. Did it crash? Has it been hi­jacked? Once the an­swer is out and we rec­on­cile to the facts, I can re­sume trav­el­ing. Till then, I don't see fly­ing as a leisure op­tion," said Nankani. Vishal Jairath, South Asia head of VFS Global, a com­pany that pro­cesses visa ap­pli­ca­tions to Malaysia and 16 other coun­tries, said they were yet to feel the rip­ple. "Trav­el­ers to the re­gion would ob­vi­ously be tense. It is an un­fore­seen event. It is the air­lines and travel agents com­mu­nity that will face most of the queries," said Jairath, who re­turned from Kuala Lumpur barely two days be­fore the flight dis­ap­peared on March 8. Se­nior cit­i­zens Van­dana and Ku­mar As­vani had planned a trip to China and Kuala Lumpur but can­celled it. "I can­not ac­cept what's hap­pened and don't have the heart to take the risk. An ac­ci­dent can hap­pen once in a blue moon but if an air­craft can dis­ap­pear, there's no telling when there can be a re­peat," said Ku­mar. Mem­bers of the travel trade in­dus­try fear the un­cer­tainty may af­fect travel plans in the sum­mer hol­i­day sea­son. While 70-80 pas­sen­gers fly to Malaysia from Kolkata daily dur­ing the

off-peak sea­son, it shoots up to 250-300 a day dur­ing peak pe­riod. It isn't just flights to Malaysia that will get hit but those to Thai­land and Sin­ga­pore as well be­cause they are all around the Gulf of Siam and An­daman Sea, the hottest beach des­ti­na­tions in the re­gion. Pun­jabi, who has been fac­ing a bar­rage of queries from his clients, says he has no an­swers to of­fer for most of them. "I am as puz­zled by the in­ci­dent as they are. There is anx­i­ety and un­cer­tainty among pas­sen­gers. And this isn't just among those trav­el­ling for the first time in­ter­na­tion­ally. Even fre­quent fliers and busi­ness­men are feel­ing the jit­ters. Since they can't avoid travel al­to­gether, I am ad­vis­ing them to pur­chase in­sur­ance," said Pun­jabi.

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