The Perils of Airplane Travel
An Oscar Peregrine-Smythe Story
Oscar Peregrine-Smythe, such a sterling gentleman, could never see the benefit of travel insurance. For him, life was an adventure to be lived, and if he encountered adversary, then (by Jove), he would face it head on. No need for any piffling insurance to pull him from trouble, no! A man stands on his own two feet, strong and confident.
Julie Tasker, on the other hand, was a sensible young lady. Prepared, but not overly worried, calm and relaxed. She always had travel insurance - it was as part of booking her holiday as buying suncream and sandals!
As luck would have it, they found themselves on the same flight.
Peregrine-Smythe stepped from the air conditioned luxury of his taxi cab and onto the rain-soaked paving of the airport car park. His suitcase was a little heavy, but he wasn’t going to be put off and dragged the weighty luggage from the car boot where it deposited itself onto the ground with a solid thump. Slightly puffing under the exertion, Peregrine-Smythe worked his way through the revolving doors into the airport.
He was early enough that the queue was not considerable, and dragged the suitcase with him to the check-in desk. It staggered along the floor as, despite its wheels, it had become damaged enough from the journey so far to have a broken axle and affected a wobble.
There was one woman in front of him when he arrived. She too, had a suitcase, although it seemed considerably more lightweight as she lifted it, almost casually, onto the platform. Oscar Peregrine-Smythe listened somewhat rudely as Julie Tasker (as it turned out she was called) checked in her luggage.
Eventually she moved aside with a smile, and he hefted his belongings onto the belt.
“It’s over,” said the clerk monotonously. “Can you take anything out? Or repack?”
“Goddamnit, no!” exalted Oscar, “I’ll pay the excess.”
The excess, it turned out, wasn’t cheap.
“Delayed?!” Oscar Peregrine-Smythe stood in front of the check in desk. In his heart, he knew that it wasn’t in any way the fault of the girl who was now giving him the bad news, but he had no one else that would even pretend to listen to him. “What do you mean delayed?!”
Single-trip travel insurance generally costs less than £40, and will cover a range of issues, including flight delays. Should a delay cause you to cancel your entire holiday, you often can recoup that cost from the insurer including flights and unused accommodation. Shorter delays are covered by the airline, who will provide food and drink and, if you are delayed overnight, accommodation.
And, for the fourth time, she calmly explained to him that the flight had been cancelled for safety issues and he was rescheduled for a flight that evening. He was entitled to meal vouchers.
“Meal vouchers indeed!” snubbed Peregrine-Smythe without accepting the proffered slips.
Julie Tasker was next to him once more, looking unperturbed. “I have cover for a restaurant meal,” she said, “I’m happy to share.”
Oscar was about to launch into a tirade about the professionalism of the air company, but decided better of it. Something about this lady calmed his nerves.
“Very kind, my dear,” he said, “but I’m able to take care of myself. Enjoy your meal.”
Of course, they met again an hour later as they left the only restaurant in the terminal. Oscar was £33 pounds lighter for the experience, and the day had only just begun.
The flight took off at 8:15 that evening. Oscar having had to make numerous phone calls to rearrange things at the other end, had cut deeply into his holiday budget. When he totted it up, quite aside from his own personal discomfort, the whole matter of the delay had cost him more than two hundred pounds.
Julie Tasker, seated across the aisle from him smiled sweetly in his direction. She seemed utterly tranquil.
They were cruising at around 35,000 feet when it happened. Oscar, after having suffered a little stomach upset regarding the £33 meal, was returning to his chair when a man (a perfectly respectful looking fellow in pinstripe, no less!) stood up and declared that he was taking over the plane for his personal use, and that every single one of them should consider themselves a hostage. Oscar sat back in his aisle seat with a thump.
“It’s very simple,” said the clear tones of an educated Englishman, “you all relax here and play the happy hostages, and we all get home safely. Try anything dumb, and you definitely don’t.”
The aggressor’s compatriots in other sections of the plane seemed in less control, as there was some screaming and the noise of someone being hit before everything went quiet once more.
“What was I saying? Ah yes, be good. Thanks.”
The terrorist (as Oscar chose to see him) leaned his back against the wall and looked around. He seemed to relax. As the time ticked by, the general level of panic subsided and people settled back in to their seats. One person, Oscar noted, managed to fall back to sleep - evidenced by her soft snoring that rose above the general silence.
He couldn’t believe he was on a plane that was hijacked. Like everyone else, he felt it when they veered to the right and the course was changed. I’m going to end up somewhere completely wrong, Oscar lamented to himself. This was not turning out to be the best day.
“Put all your belongings in here,” said the gruff voice of one of the other terrorists. This man was tanned, closer to 40 than 30, with a mixed beard of stubble and tufty edging. Oscar thought he both looked and smelled absolutely dreadful. He dropped in a few coins to the bag.
“Everything,” insisted the man. Reluctantly, Oscar reached into his pocket and deposited his wallet.
“Phone, watch.” He was evidently losing patience. Oscar reasoned the best thing to do was comply; after all, he wasn’t the one with the gun. It was an almost physical wrenching, however, dropping not only his iPhone but also a £15,000 Cartier into the bag. It had been a present from his brother.
This was, he reflected, becoming a very costly trip.
Unknown by most, and rarely used, many travel insurance policies cover situations relating to terrorist activity, including hijacking. The specifics of the policy mean the cover will vary, from a simple compensation for the loss of time, to full cover including losses, repatriation, medical treatment and therapy to help you recover from the experience.
They landed in Africa.
Oscar Peregrine-Smythe, who had never considered Africa a suitable destination, stepped onto hot cracked tarmac and stood next to the one person he recognised, Julie Tasker, while the plane that they had shared for the past eleven hours lifted off into the sky without them.
“My luggage,” he said weakly.
“It’s OK.” Julie turned to look him straight in the eye. “I can see you’re having a bad day. Don’t worry, we’ll be alright. I’m Julie, by the way.”
“Oscar Peregrine-Smythe,” said Oscar, strangely embarrassed, for the very first time, of his own name.
“Well, Mr. Peregrine-Smythe, shall we see what’s here?”
There was very little. Oscar and Julie joined the general throng as it made its way to the single building in the sandy sun-soaked airport. They were joined before they got to the door by a number of black-clad officials with guns. Already, everyone was trying to talk and Oscar remained at the back with his new companion, hoping he wouldn’t be called upon to speak.
“We should be fine,” assured Julie. “Travel insurance covers hijacking, you know! I was reading all my documents before I came out yesterday, and hijacking is actually in there. They’ll get us home fine – that’s repatriation and that’s in there too.”
“Don’t have it,” said Oscar miserably.
“Travel insurance?” asked Julie.
Peregrine-Smythe nodded, his gesture met with a quiet “oh” from Julie.
Before too long, the two of them followed the group into an air-conditioned building with stark white plastic seats and polished linoleum. They found somewhere to sit and waited, promised food and cars and a waiting hotel, courtesy of the airline.
“See!” said Julie, “Don’t need insurance for this bit – the airline is taking care of us.”
Oscar brightened – at least he might get fed.
As a child, Oscar Peregrine-Smythe had had the good fortune to travel Europe with his guardian. There he had stayed in many hotels and, with some wit, had commented satirically on the more meagre facilities of some of the outlying establishments.
He would have given a considerable sum to swap his current room for any of the worst hostels from his childhood trip.
Nothing identified his present lodgings with the word ‘hotel’ as he knew it - from the lack of helpful staff, through to the equally lacking bedlinen. Oscar slumped exhausted on a bed which he was sure must contain lice, and, having nothing better to do, collapsed into sleep.
His last waking thoughts were that of jealousy, having watched Julie upgrade her situation through her insurance company to the Radisson a few miles away. At least she had invited him there for a late lunch after their rest.
Bereft of a phone, a credit card, or even a smattering of local currency, Oscar walked stoically from his hotel to the Radisson, its cool lobby a welcome sight after a morning of fitful sleep and panicked dreams. Julie was waiting for him, and together they walked to the restaurant.
Travel insurance is not the only cover in place to help while you are away from home – credit cards are insured by the credit card company and a simple phone call will usually get a replacement card to you as swiftly as possible.
“I am so pleased to see you,” Oscar effused, “you have no idea how poor my lodgings are!”
“I think I do,” Julie said with a smile. “But no matter, our flight back has been scheduled for this evening and car is picking us up from here in a few hours. Relax, have something to eat, and we’ll back in London before the night is done.”
“London wasn’t my intended goal, but home is far better than this imposed limbo. Thank you again for your hospitality.”
“You’re so welcome. I enjoy the company.”
They ate a delicious meal; three courses that made Oscar feel far more comfortable, topped off by a chocolate pudding that was nothing short of decadent. The conversation had turned onto travel insurance once more, and Oscar was further put out to discover that Julie would suffer no loss from her holiday being postponed – indeed, she was under the impression that when it was all resolved, she’d have enough funds to fly out again in a week or so.
Whether it was due to the food they had shared, or an unsettled stomach from the stresses of the last twenty-four hours, an hour later both Oscar and Julie suffered the most terrible cramps.
Sharing the facilities of Julie’s small, but luxurious room, the two companions took turns with the bathroom. A fever rose in them both, and soon turned into a cramp-infested shivering. Julie collapsed into the bed, and Oscar took the armchair, making sure to put in an alarm call with the reception before he allowed sleep to take him.
It was late at night before either of them regained any semblance of consciousness. In considerable pain, Oscar called reception. They had missed their car, and the connecting flight, but for the moment that seemed less than important.
“Doctor!” Oscar trembled into the phone, “Would you be so kind as to get us a doctor?”
Medical cover is one of the most important factors in travel insurance, and it covers treatment abroad as well as getting you home. Repatriation, and the incredible costs associated with it, is one of the major reasons for travel insurance – without it, it is often simply impossible to get home with any speed.
Oscar Peregrine-Smythe felt that he was definitely more ill than Julie, although that was probably an unfair assessment brought on from his frayed temper and intolerable level of envy.
Helpless, he watched as the polished white helicopter lifted his new friend into the sky and, within a few hours, back home to London.
They had wanted a little over £55,000 for him to do the same. He cried, alone and unheard, in the small storeroom at the back of the concrete hospital.
No one wanted to help him. Julie’s fever had meant that, despite her best efforts, she was unable to provide any assistance and they had flown her home as part of her insurance package without question.
“You should go back to bed, sir,” said the kindly nurse. She moved to take his arm and lead him, and he was too weak to stop her.
“I should be on that helicopter,” he whined.
“No doubt,” agreed the nurse. “A few days and you’ll be fine, sir. You can get a nice regular aeroplane to take you home.”
A few days of the heat, the cramped hospital conditions, the lying on a thin plastic mattress in a room with holes where there should be windows. He hated the flies.
Even basic single-trip cover, at approximately £40, would have made Oscar Peregrine-Smythe’s life substantially better! Don’t skimp on the insurance when you travel.
London was a welcome sight. The embassy had helped somewhat with some emergency funds and he was able to pay half of the taxi in advance, explaining he’d cover the difference as soon as they arrived in Mayfair.
There was no complaint from the driver, especially once he heard the address. Oscar had not fully recovered from the illness he’d suffered for six days now, but as soon as he’d been well enough to properly walk, he’d forced them to let him come home. They were happy to be rid of him too, he had observed. He sank into the back of the cool cab and let the lights of London drift past.
His own bed was a luxury he planned never to leave.