Coping with Cancellations
Airlines typically can offset revenue losses for cancellations due to bad weather either by saving on fuel and salary costs or rerouting passengers on other flights, but this year’s revenue losses from the worst winter storm season in years might be too much for traditional measures.
At least one broker said the time may be right for airlines to consider crafting custom insurance programs to account for such devastating seasons.
For a good part of the country, including many parts of the Southeast, snow and ice storms have wreaked havoc on flight cancellations, with a mid-February storm being the worst of all. On Feb. 13, a snowstorm from Virginia to Maine caused airlines to scrub 7,561 U.S. flights, more than the 7,400 cancelled flights due to Hurricane Sandy, according to MasFlight, industry data tracker based in Bethesda, Md.
Roughly 100,000 flights have been canceled since Dec. 1, MasFlight said.
Just United, alone, the world’s second-largest airline, reported that it had cancelled 22,500 flights in January and February, 2014, according to Bloomberg. The airline’s completed regional flights was 87.1 percent, which was “an extraordinarily low level,” and almost 9 percentage points below its mainline operations, it reported.
And another potentially heavy snowfall was forecast for last weekend, from California to New England.
The sheer amount of cancellations this winter are likely straining airlines’ bottom lines, said Katie Connell, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, a trade group for major U.S. airline companies.
“The airline industry’s fixed costs are high, therefore the majority of operating costs will still be incurred by airlines, even for canceled flights,” Connell wrote in an email. “If a flight is canceled due to weather, the only significant cost that the airline avoids is fuel; otherwise, it must still pay ownership costs for aircraft and ground equipment, maintenance costs and overhead and most crew costs. Extended storms and other sources of irregular operations are clear reminders of the industry’s operational and financial vulnerability to factors outside its control.”
Bob Mann, an independent airline analyst and consultant who is principal of R.W. Mann & Co. Inc. in Port Washington, N.Y., said that two-thirds of costs — fuel and labor — are short-term variable costs, but that fixed charges are “unfortunately incurred.” Airlines just typically absorb those costs.
“I am not aware of any airline that has considered taking out business interruption insurance for weather-related disruptions; it is simply a part of the business,” Mann said.
Chuck Cederroth, managing director at Aon Risk Solutions’ aviation practice, said carriers would probably not want to insure airlines against cancellations because airlines have control over whether a flight will be canceled, particularly if they don’t want to risk being fined up to $27,500 for each passenger by the Federal Aviation Administration when passengers are stuck on a tarmac for hours.
“How could an insurance product work when the insured is the one who controls the trigger?” Cederroth asked. “I think it would be a product that insurance companies would probably have a hard time providing.”
But Brad Meinhardt, U.S. aviation practice leader, for Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., said now may be the best time for airlines — and insurance carriers — to think about crafting a specialized insurance program to cover fluke years like this one.
“I would be stunned if this subject hasn’t made its way up into the C-suites of major and mid-sized airlines,” Meinhardt said. “When these events happen, people tend to look over their shoulder and ask if there is a solution for such events.”
Airlines often hedge losses from unknown variables such as varying fuel costs or interest rate fluctuations using derivatives, but those tools may not be enough for severe winters such as this year’s, he said. While products like business interruption insurance may not be used for airlines, they could look at weather-related insurance products that have very specific triggers.
For example, airlines could designate a period of time for such a “tough winter policy,” say from the period of November to March, in which they can manage cancellations due to 10 days of heavy snowfall, Meinhardt said. That amount could be designated their retention in such a policy, and anything in excess of the designated snowfall days could be a defined benefit that a carrier could pay if the policy is triggered. Possibly, the trigger would be inches of snowfall. “Custom solutions are the idea,” he said.
“Airlines are not likely buying any of these types of products now, but I think there’s probably some thinking along those lines right now as many might have to take losses as write-downs on their quarterly earnings and hope this doesn’t happen again,” he said. “There probably needs to be one airline making a trailblazing action on an insurance or derivative product — something that gets people talking about how to hedge against those losses in the future.”
Flipping Coverage on Its Head
For almost 50 years, Southwest Airlines cemented a reputation for innovation and cost control. The company’s risk management department is no exception to the rule.
Under the leadership of risk manager Kristy Harris, Southwest developed answers to coverage challenges that helped to enhance protection while keeping tariffs in check.
A typical case is a solution created to provide Side A coverage at rates that recognize the strength of the company’s balance sheet by literally turning upside down the structure of the D&O program, when some differences in conditions apply.
Southwest’s D.I.C. Flipp solution is, at first sight, a simple one. As with usual ABC-tower D&O structures, Side A coverages sit atop Southwest’s program. However, if one of the special circumstances that can trigger the coverage applies, the Side A block drops to the bottom of the pyramid, and its primary insurer becomes the leader of the whole D&O program.
The solution looks simple, but its implementation required months of negotiation, as lawyers and brokers discussed the fine print with dozens of underwriters. Key to implementing the new arrangement was to bring on board the lead D&O insurer, which had to agree to another insurer’s wording when the flip occurs.
This mission was accomplished with a little help from the baseball gods.
Harris met her broker and the D&O leader at Stan’s Sports Bar, the legendary sports bar right across the street from the Yankees’ stadium in New York. With the game delayed two hours because of rain, Harris and ExecutivePeril’s Peter R. Taffae took the opportunity to do their own pitch to the insurer. It proved to be a home run.
“We were able to get this additional amount of coverage without having to pay more premium for it,” Harris said.
But the D.I.C. Flipp also reflects Southwest’s development of long-term, trust-based relationships with underwriters and brokers, a strategy that may not produce the biggest cost savings during a soft market, but helps to produce sustained enhancements to the insurance program.
“We are not necessarily focused on getting the lowest price. We are more interested in getting the best product.” — Kristy Harris, risk manager, Southwest Airlines
“We are not necessarily focused on getting the lowest price,” she said. “We are more interested in getting the best product.”
Southwest aims to develop creative solutions during soft cycles.
“We sit down with each carrier separately and … talk about risks and areas where we feel that we need new or improved coverages,” she said. “It is a matter of engaging underwriters in the search of solutions. In a soft market, they are looking for premium dollars. They want to be profitable, and for that they need innovation.
“I never imagined that I would end up in risk management,” she said. “But what I’ve learned is that risk management is … about knowing the company as a whole, so that it is possible to analyze a risk and control it all the way down to the management of claims.”
Relationships are an area Harris excels at as well, said Taffae.
“Kristy is extremely bright and very humble,” he said. “She is detail-oriented, but does not micromanage. And she is fun. You want to work with her.” &
Think You Don’t Need Environmental Insurance?
“I don’t work with hazardous materials.”
“My industry isn’t regulated by the EPA.”
“We have an environmental health and safety team, and a response plan in place.”
“We’ve never had an environmental loss.”
“I have coverage through my other general liability and property policies.”
These are the justifications clients most often give insurers for not procuring environmental insurance. For companies outside of sectors with obvious exposure — oil and gas, manufacturing, transportation — the risk of environmental damage may appear marginal and coverage unnecessary.
“Environmental insurance is not like every other insurance,” said Mary Ann Susavidge, Chief Underwriting Officer, Environmental, XL Catlin. “The exposure is unique for every operation and claims don’t happen often, so many businesses view coverage as a discretionary purchase. But the truth is that no one is immune to environmental liability risk.”
Every business needs to be aware of their environmental exposures. To do that, they need a partner with the experience to help them identify exposures and guide them through the remediation claims process after an incident. The environmental team at XL Catlin has been underwriting these risks for 30 years.
“Insureds might not experience this type of claim every day, but our environmental team does,” said Matt O’Malley, President, North America Environmental, XL Catlin. “We’ve seen what can happen if you’re not prepared.”
Susavidge and O’Malley debunked some of the common myths behind decisions to forego environmental coverage:
Myth: My business is not subject to environmental regulations.
Reality: Other regulators and business partners will require some degree of environmental protection.
Regulatory agencies like OSHA are more diligent than ever about indoor air quality and water systems testing after several outbreaks of Legionnaires disease.
“The regulators often set the trends in environmental claims,” Susavidge said. “In the real estate area it started with testing for radon, and now there’s more concern over mold and legionella.”
Multiple hotels have been forced to shut down after testing revealed legionella in their plumbing or cooling systems. In addition to remediation costs, business interruption losses can climb quickly.
For some industries, environmental insurance acts as a critical business enabler because investors require it. Many real estate developers, for example, are moving into urban areas where their clients want to live and work, but vacant lots are scarce. Those still available may be covering up an urban landfill or a brownfield.
“We’re able to provide expertise on those sites and the development risks so the contractor can get comfortable working on it. It’s about allowing our clients to stay relevant in their markets,” O’Malley said. “In this case, the developer is not an insured with a typical environmental exposure. But if there is a contaminant on the worksite, they could inadvertently disperse it. In a high-population urban area, the impact could be large.”
Banks also quite often require the coverage specifically because developers are turning to these locations with higher potential environmental risk.
“Though it’s not a legal requirement, insurance is a facilitator to the deal that developers really can’t operate without,” Susavidge said.
Myth: The small environmental exposure I have would be covered under other polices.
Reality: Environmental losses can result from exposure to off-site events and are excluded by many property and casualty policies.
Environmental risks on adjoining properties can lead to major third party losses. Vapor intrusion under the foundation of one property, for example, can unknowingly underlie the neighboring properties as well. The vapor intrusion can then seep into the surrounding properties, endangering employees and guests.
In other words, your neighbor’s environmental exposure may become your environmental exposure.
O’Malley described a claim in which a petroleum pipeline burst, affecting properties and natural resources 10 miles downstream even though the pipeline was shut off two minutes after the rupture. The energy company that owns the pipeline might have coverage, but what about the other impacted organizations? Many other property policies exclude environmental damage.
Sometimes the exposure is even more unexpected. In 2005, for example, a train carrying tons of chlorine gas crashed into a parked train set sitting in the yard of Avondale Mills — a South Carolina textile plant. The gas permanently damaged plant equipment and forced the operation to shut down.
“It’s not always obvious when you have an environmental exposure,” Susavidge said.
“When there is a big loss or a pattern of losses, the casualty market will typically move to exclude it,” said O’Malley. “And that’s where the environmental team looks for a solution. Environmental coverage has been developed to fill the gaps that other coverages won’t touch.”
Myth: We already have a thorough response plan if there is an incident.
Reality: Properly handling an environmental event requires experience and expertise.
In addition to coverage, risk managers need experience and expertise on their side when navigating environmental claims.
“For many of our clients, their first environmental claim is a very different experience because the claimant is not always a typical third party – it’s a government agency or some other organization that they lack experience with,” Susavidge said. “Our claims team is made up of attorneys that have specific domain experience litigating environmental claims issues.”
Beyond its legal staff, XL Catlin’s claims consulting team and risk engineers come with specialized expertise in environmental issues. 85 to 90 percent of the team members are former environmental engineers and scientists, civil engineers, chemists, and geologists.
“Handling environmental claims requires specialized expertise with contaminants and different types of pollution events,” O’Malley said. “That’s why our 30 years of experience makes a difference.”
Thirty years in the business also means 30 years of loss data.
“That informs us as a carrier how to provide the right types of services for the right clients,” Susavidge said. “It gives us insight into what our insureds are likely to experience and help us determine what support they need.”
Insureds also benefit from the relationships that XL Catlin has built in the industry over those 30 years. When the XL Catlin team is engaged following a covered pollution event, the XL Catlin claims team can deploy seasoned, experienced third party contractors that partner with the insured to address the spill and the potential reputational risk. And they receive guidance on communicating with regulatory bodies and following proper reporting procedures.
“The value of the policy goes beyond the words that are written,” O’Malley said. “It’s the service we provide to help clients get back on their feet, so they can focus on their business rather than the event itself.”
For more information on XL Catlin’s environmental coverage and services, visit http://xlcatlin.com/insurance/insurance-coverage/casualty-insurance.
The information contained herein is intended for informational purposes only. Insurance coverage in any particular case will depend upon the type of policy in effect, the terms, conditions and exclusions in any such policy, and the facts of each unique situation. No representation is made that any specific insurance coverage would apply in the circumstances outlined herein. Please refer to the individual policy forms for specific coverage details. XL Catlin, the XL Catlin logo and Make Your World Go are trademarks of XL Group Ltd companies. XL Catlin is the global brand used by XL Group Ltd’s (re)insurance subsidiaries. In the US, the insurance companies of XL Group Ltd are: Catlin Indemnity Company, Catlin Insurance Company, Inc., Catlin Specialty Insurance Company, Greenwich Insurance Company, Indian Harbor Insurance Company, XL Insurance America, Inc., and XL Specialty Insurance Company. Not all of the insurers do business in all jurisdictions nor is coverage available in all jurisdictions. Information accurate as of September 2016.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with XL Catlin. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.