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Singapore Airlines Airbus A380-841 taxis around CDG Airport on March 29, 2010. Singapore Airlines is the flag carrier of Singapore. It was the launch customer of Airbus A380 from Shutterstock.com

SIA makes U-turn decision on auto-insurance inclusion

The national carrier, Singapore Airlines (SIA) has backtracked on its decision to automatically charge passengers for travel insurance.

The "auto opt-in" feature, said to have been introduced last year in Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong, raised eyebrows with customers when they realised that they were charged with travel insurance without being clearly notified at the point of booking.

In a forum letter dated 20 Jan, "Grow your revenue, SIA, but do it fairly", Mr Allen Tan Han Loong voiced his experience being automatically charged with travel insurance which he had not opted for.

"...I purchased an air ticket online on the SIA website and was shocked to discover that I had been charged for travel insurance - which I had not opted for - when I received confirmation of the booking by e-mail.

Upon calling SIA reservations, I was told by a friendly and very apologetic staff member that it is now company policy to "auto opt in" customers for travel insurance, and that cancellation of this was very difficult.

I was rather indignant and insisted on a cancellation of the unwanted insurance policy.

After being put on hold for some time, the staff member told me that SIA would contact the insurance company and get back to me at some stage, but with no guarantee that the policy would be cancelled.

While I understand that SIA needs to grow revenue, its senior management should work out proper ways of doing this, rather than slipping in surreptitious add-on charges such as this."

In response to Mr Tan's letter, SIA's Senior Vice President for Sales and Marketing, Campbell Wilson wrote:

"...Singapore Airlines encourages customers to take up travel insurance to safeguard their travel plans, and we refer to the benefits of insurance in our conditions of contract.

The "opt-in" default was implemented in some markets, including Singapore, last year. The inclusion of insurance is clearly displayed, the cost is reflected in the booking summary panel at the payment page, and customers can opt out if they do not wish to add the insurance to their booking.

Additionally, customers who have taken insurance but later change their mind may cancel the insurance without penalty prior to departure. In such cases, refunds will be credited to the customer's credit card within 10 working days.

As with all measures that we implement, we will continue to review and refine our policies and practices to better serve our customers. We have also been in touch with Mr Tan to expedite the refund process given his experience."

Soon after, Aaron Wong from Milelion wrote a piece which criticised SIA's "scummy practice" to auto-include the travel insurance in the airfare. Wong wrote, "This is completely disingenuous. It is one thing to “encourage customers to take up travel insurance”. It is another to slip it in when no one’s looking."

The article went viral and attracted comments such as, "SIA cheapen themselves, it’s really sad to watch, they didn’t have to do all these pathetic attempts to make more money." and "It is sad to know that our national pride airline is resorting to this. Sad!"

However, SIA has since taken a step back on its stance for the auto-inclusion. In response to Today's queries, an SIA spokesman said on Thursday (1 Feb), "We have taken customer feedback into account, however, and have amended the booking flow on our website to offer travel insurance as an 'opt-in', rather than 'opt out', feature,"

This follows an earlier u-turn decision made to cancel its plan to charge credit card fees for flights departing from Singapore booked under certain classes after the company received backlash from members of the public regarding the implementation of the credit card fees.