British Airways' decision forces insurers to pay for air ambulances

Claims costs for travel insurers could rise by millions of pounds following a decision by British Airways (BA) to ban stretchers from its flights.

Historically most airlines have allowed patients on stretchers to travel home following an illness or injury on holiday at no additional cost.

But insurers have had to shell out for air ambulances to repatriate sick policyholders since BA imposed a ban in June.

Experts predict that if other insurers follow suit, the cost to the insurance industry could run into millions.

A BA spokesman said: "Carrying stretchers had a detrimental effect on our performance. Over 60% of planes carrying stretchers were late. This is part of a strategy to simplify our operations."

The ABI is now lobbying on behalf of the industry to ensure the ban is not adopted universally by major carriers.

An ABI spokesman said: "Sometimes air ambulances are not appropriate. Standard planes can carry more fuel and are more readily available. The impact [of BA's decision] is difficult to ascertain at this stage."

Jonathan Cooper, vice president of the travel, accidental and health division at AIG, which underwrites policies for Insure and Go and Boots, said: "This is a real issue for the industry - the potential costs could be substantial. We will monitor the situation closely."