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Traveling to the 2012 Olympics

Posted July 30th, 2012
by Staff Writers

Now that the Olympic Games are underway, throngs of sports fans and world travelers are flocking to London to witness history. The United Kingdom’s Department for Transport estimates 500,000 visitors will descend on the city between July 17 and August 18, excluding the 70,000 athletes and officials, an increase of 260,000 from last year. An expected 14,000 were booked to arrive through a travel agent on the Thursday before the opening ceremony, according to the market research company Forward Data.

Nineteen percent of the expected arrivals are coming from the U.S., where at least one travel insurance company has experienced an influx of customers seeking protection. Allianz Global Assistance USA, a multinational travel insurance provider with a growing presence domestically, has reported a 36% increase in travel insurance sales to people heading from the U.S. to London between late July and early September.

The flurry of activity means the chances of those pesky inconveniences occurring are greater than usual. “Unexpected illness or injury, significant airline delays and lost or delayed baggage are some of the concerns that consumers have when traveling and they are using travel insurance as a strategy to mitigate those risks,” Robert Pearson, Director of Market Intelligence at Allianz, said in a press release.

Is Travel Insurance Necessary?

Heathrow Airport prepared for months to handle the hordes of people who will be continuously arriving and leaving over a period of several weeks. It designated three peak days in which activity during the Olympics was or is supposed to be the most challenging: July 16, when Olympic athletes arrived nearly en masse; July 26, when sponsor and media poured in the day before the opening ceremony; and August 13, the day after the closing ceremony, which is expected to be Heathrow’s busiest day on record.

More than 1,000 volunteers have been corralled to ensure operations run as smoothly as possible. The airport has incorporated recommendations from other airports in previous host cities, and has invited peer reviews of their plans. New procedures have been tested to prevent trial and error from occurring during the Games.

However, even the most efficient preparations won’t prevent mistakes from happening. With 138,000 people and more than 200,000 bags expected to depart, 45% and 35% more than a regular day respectively, mistakes are bound to happen due to human error. When the Australian sailing team arrived on July 16, they were disappointed to discover that their sails were missing. Baggage handlers mistook the sails for cargo cargo because of their size. Fortunately, they were quickly recovered.

Coverage for delayed, lost, or damaged luggage is included in a typical travel insurance vacation plan. If an item is lost, the owner is given enough money to replace it. If an essential item is delayed, the owner is given enough money to cover the cost until the luggage is returned. Unforeseen expenses can derail an already expensive, pre-planned trip.

A delayed or canceled flight can be even more costly. Inclement weather or general confusion can disrupt a tight schedule dependent on narrow arrival windows. Missed reservations and even worse, missed hotel check-ins, can remove thousands of dollars from the pockets of travelers. In London’s hotels high demand and high capacity has driven up the cost to stay. On July 16 Travelclick reported that London hotel prices averaged £ 189, or $293. Last minute reservations are more difficult to come by, and likely to be even more expensive.

Vacation plans encompass non-refundable bookings and reservations. Travelers who are forced to cancel trips because they fell ill, lost their job, experienced a death in the family, were summoned for jury duty, or the occurrence of a natural disaster can be covered depending on the criteria of their agreement with their travel insurer. The former reason, falling ill, is another component that travelers insure during their trip because most health insurance providers in the U.S. do not cover medical expenses abroad.

English food gets a bad rap, and most visitors during the London Games will likely be pleased with the variety of delicious food offerings, but a bout with food poisoning, for example, can be unavoidable. Seeing a doctor and paying for medication can put a major dent in a traveler’s wallet. Even worse, a serious ailment that requires a few days in the hospital can cost five figures.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs recommends for people traveling abroad to consider purchasing a medical travel insurance plan after they’ve confirmed that their current health insurance policy doesn’t apply when they’re outside the U.S. and doesn’t cover emergencies like a trip to a foreign hospital or an evacuation. Older travelers visiting the Olympics should note that Medicare offers no coverage abroad.

Navigating London

A travel insurance policy provides peace of mind to travelers worried about the logistics of their trips and their pocketbooks. However, ensuring things runs smoothly with minimal inconvenience is largely the responsibility of the traveler. London is swarming with confused people who are losing valuable and expensive time. Visitors who maximize their time are the ones who’ve done their homework and understand the lay of the land.

Many visitors may be tempted to avoid Heathrow given that it’s the primary hub for international flights. The London area is connected through five airports; London City, Gatwick, Stansted, and Luton are the four others, each of which handles international arrivals. Whether or not they’re as well-run as Heathrow, though, remains to be seen. Visitors can also opt for smaller airports scattered throughout England and airports in other major cities throughout Europe, hopping on a train or bus to make up the rest of the distance.

Rail is a popular mode of transportation for visitors within London, which is known worldwide for its efficient public transportation system. Train companies have mobilized to create a network, both overground and underground, to shuttle people to and from their destinations as quickly as possible. Traveling by ground or water via bus or tube are options for shorter distances. Because of the rush, it’s essential for visitors to plan ahead. Created by Transport for London, Get Ahead of the Games is an interactive map providing visitors details on busy travel hubs.

Of course, visitors with tickets to sporting events likely have a Games Travelcard, which is valid during the day of the event for travel on “London Underground, London Overground, Docklands Light Railway, buses, trams and National Rail services – but not on Heathrow, Stansted or Gatwick Express trains, or for taxis/private hire vehicles,” according to the London 2012 site. For those sticking around London after the Games, purchasing a Visitor Oyster card allows visitors to pay as they go on public transportation.

Heightened security will assuredly slow things down, so visitors should be forewarned. The London 2012 website advises those who are attending events to bring as little as possible, as security checks are ubiquitous. At soccer events, for example, bringing a medium-sized soft-sided bag, which is permitted into most other events, is discouraged. The site provides a list of all the items prohibited from events. Excluded are liquids, aerosols, and gels in quantities greater than 100ml, glass bottles larger than 100ml, alcohol, and any item or article of clothing that can serve as a disruption.

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