Travel insurance

Henrico-based travel insurer Allianz uses an air ambulance service to fly vacationers who fall ill or become injured | Local

Sometimes, things can go horribly wrong on a vacation or business travel.

Broken legs, heart attacks or other serious illnesses — all of them happen and pose a far more serious challenge when they happen far from home.

That’s when assistance services team members at Henrico County-based Allianz Worldwide Partners get a phone call.

Millions of people buy travel insurance every year from the company under its Allianz Global Assistance brand. Inevitably, some have a serious health crisis during their journey. The company’s travel insurance policies include an Allianz hotline phone number to call, in case of emergency.

“If you are injured and you call, wherever you are in the world, the call is going to come to us in Richmond,” said Kim Seay, director of assistance services for Allianz Global Assistance.

The team includes about 30 registered nurses. It also has a medical director, along with consulting emergency care physicians from the University of Virginia.

“We immediately look at the country that you are in and we look at what hospital care is there,” said Seay, a registered nurse. “We are going to make sure that they can treat you, and treat you appropriately.”

“We will monitor your care and look at what your needs are going to be to get you back,” she said.

Some travelers are so seriously ill that they cannot make it home on a commercial flight. That’s when the team at Allianz calls for an air ambulance.

To move seriously ill people, Allianz contracts with Skyservice Air Ambulance International, a Canada-based company that operates three aircraft specifically designed for medical transportation.

Last week, Skyservice brought one of its state-of-the-art air ambulances to Richmond International Airport, providing an opportunity for Allianz employees and some members of the media to see first-hand how air ambulance medical evacuations are managed.

The plane, a Bombardier Learjet 45XR, is equipped with a full array of onboard medical equipment, including a cardiac monitor and defibrillator, oxygen and ventilator equipment, and laboratory equipment.

“It’s an ICU in the air,” said Sam Cimone, Skyservice’s president, who also is a trained flight nurse.

The plane is typically staffed by two pilots and up to three medical staff, including a physician, a registered nurse and a respiratory therapist.

Seay said Allianz’s global assistance team gets more than 50,000 calls a year from travelers. Most are not medical emergencies, but in 2016 the company arranged for 500 medical transports for seriously injured or ill customers.

Nurses with Allianz who were visiting the plane at the airport on Thursday said broken hips resulting from falls are a common reason that travelers would need air transport.

A significant number of the flights are from the Caribbean, for vacationers who fall ill or become injured. Many flights also transport people from Europe, but the company has arranged medical transports from Asia and Australia.

“There are really no places on the planet we can’t go,” Cimone said.

The jet typically flies at a higher altitude than commercial aircraft, to avoid delays because of air traffic and to minimize turbulence, he said.

Since it was founded 28 years ago, Skyservice has flown to 180 countries and transported 27,000 patients.

Travel insurance generally costs between 5 and 10 percent of nonrefundable trip costs, Allianz spokesman Dan Durazo said. Allianz prices its travel insurance by the cost of the trip and the age of the travelers, so different products have different coverage, benefits and prices.

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