Should cruise lines take a hard line on late customers?

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Don’t miss the boat.

If you do, you could end up on this site, your story discussed and dissected in front of tens of thousands of readers.

Like Lowell Bower, who missed his Alaska cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas because of a late flight and an allegedly unhelpful cruise line, which had booked his airfare. More on Bower, and the lively discussion that his story sparked, in just a minute.

“Missed the boat” stories are the worst. And, if you’re running a website, they’re also the best.

People love to read about other people who miss their cruise. It’s part Schadenfreude — glad it’s you — not me; and part opportunity to lecture anyone who will listen about what not to do when you cruise.

I love it.

A recent wave of “missed the boat” cases has me wondering if cruise lines are going overboard with the way they treat late passengers.

Bower’s case was problematic on several levels. First, it shouldn’t have happened. He’d booked an air-inclusive cruise through Royal Caribbean, but it failed to get him to reach the ship on time, as promised.

Second, the case made no sense on several levels. The cruise line invoked the Jones Act as an excuse for not helping him, but the law doesn’t apply to domestic travel. There’s little explanation for why his connecting flight was delayed — indeed, no Royal Caribbean side of the story. That’s because the cruise line refused to discuss the matter with our advocacy team.

Finally, the discussion in the Comments section was upsetting. Lots of cruise line apologists and Monday morning quarterbacks coming in with “I-told-you-so” comments about insurance and using a qualified travel agent. As if it could never happen to them.

But let me tell you something: It can happen to you. And when it does, you’ll be happy this site is here to help, or at least try. We take hard-luck cases that no one else would attempt, and we do our best to assist. Yes, even when you don’t deserve the help. Who are we to judge?

MIssed-boat cases are legendary on this site. (By the way, I know that the correct term is “ship,” but no one ever says, “He missed the ship.”)

Tyrone Knight’s case from earlier this year comes to mind. His ship sailed into the sunset after the bags with his passports went missing. If he’d only carried them with him, that wouldn’t have happened. Still, a horrible event, and not easily resolved.

What’s worse than missing a cruise? Missing a honeymoon cruise. That’s what happened to Lori and Jim Claus after their inbound flight was delayed. Royal Caribbean’s solution? An unexpected four-day “vacation” in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

What do all of these stories have in common — I mean, other than the fact that the name “Royal Caribbean” comes up a lot? It’s that cruise lines appear to be taking a harder line on delayed guests, and that intervention by our advocacy team is of little or no use. Miss the boat? That’s your problem. Thanks for the money, by the way.

I feel even worse for the passengers who bought insurance or air-inclusive packages but were still turned away or had to forfeit huge chunks of their vacation. That’s not right.

But don’t worry. Missed-boat stories are so irresistible, we’ll just have to keep writing them. And at some point, the cruise lines who tell their tardy customers to get lost will have to pay attention. They won’t have a choice.

Should cruise lines take a hard line on late customers?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

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  • Here we always advocate that cruise passengers allow buffer days to connect from any travel to the port, but work schedules and/or major airline delays can cause a passenger to have to call the line’s emergency delay number to let them know he’s still on the way. And if he does so, the line has no business concealing an internal screwup by claiming not to have gotten the call.

  • NotThatBrooklynGuy

    Poll was too simplistic.
    If it was an air-inclusive, the cruise line should work hard to make it right.
    If the vacationer booked his own air, then the cruise line doesn’t owe the vacationer much if they are late.

  • charliebgolf

    I voted yes only because the question said it was their fault. If the question had not be biased I would have probably voted no.

  • Melissa Ballard Jones

    That’s how I feel about most of the polls on here. Too simplistic or they ask the wrong question.

  • Annie M

    Educated cruisers never fly into the port on the day of the cruise. Arriving a day or two early would eliminate the problem.

  • Travelnut

    I’m cruising next month. My flight arrives about 48 hours ahead of the departure. I’m still nervous!

    I’m torn about helping those “who don’t deserve it”. I’ve read this blog long enough that it’s like a masters degree in travel disasters. Sometimes I read the case and I’m like, c’mon people, how can you be so careless? But then I remember what it was like to be inexperienced and naive, and for sure I’ve done my share of dumb (and sometimes costly) mistakes. Heck, I made one a couple of weeks ago.

  • Peter Varhol

    I can’t really vote on this, because everyone’s case is different, but if they don’t take a hard line, they could be inconveniencing hundreds of other passengers. And I don’t cruise any more, but when I did, I always flew in the day before. It only makes sense.

  • Rebecca

    I think a big part of it is the majority of us (and I mean everyone, this blog is just a microsm) are just sick and tired of everything being someone else’s fault. Are there people that missed the boat that deserve help? Of course. But I just get sick and tired of listening to melodramatic sob stories where people refuse to take any personal responsibility for their own actions.

  • pmcw

    I think the cruise line should accommodate travelers that booked air through and in conjunction with the cruise. I think cruise lines should also help passengers that are on cruise sponsored excursions while in a port of call. However, I think that is where the responsibility to help / wait for a passenger stops.
    I don’t think the ship should wait in port indefinitely for a delayed passenger – maybe a standard policy of two hours depending on the ship’s itinerary. However, I think the cruise line should find a way to get passengers that booked their air in conjunction with the cruise to the first port of call in time to board there, and offer those passengers compensation beyond arranging for and paying for travel and lodging.

  • Jeff W.

    If you decide to fly into the port city to make your cruise, then you are rolling the dice and taking the risk. And you are responsible. Not the cruise line, not the airline. Not the parking garage. You. Now if the cruise line books that fare for you on your behalf, you have a better case. Not much, but the cruise line should help.

    Aside from the various issues with flights, what that article doesn’t really address is the tightened documentation now required. For US cruisers, a drivers’ license or state ID was all that was needed to hop on a cruise that involved Canada or the Caribbean. Now you need a current passport. And have it with you. And make sure it doesn’t expire soon. Like an airline, a cruise line wants to see the passport before you board. You wouldn’t fly to Europe with your passports in your luggage, why would you cruise to the Bahamas or Canada with them packed?

    We are not heartless. We want to see help given to those who at least took the basic steps to be prepared. And if they did, help. Or if they used a third-party to help them book and it failed, help.

  • flutiefan

    AMEN

  • LFH0

    Since some of us do not fly, I would also include travelers who travel by railroad, bus, or ferry (yes, I once arrived at a port for a cruise departure using a ferry that conveniently arrived at the very same pier from which the cruise vessel would be departing).

  • LFH0

    Rarely do cruise vessels travel at full speed, and many times they simply idle at sea. Disruptions to their arrival and departure times may be a cost to the cruise line (overtime port fees, perhaps additional fuel cost if faster cruising speed is in fact required), and lessen the line’s profits, but such should not inconvenience other passengers.

  • LFH0

    Many times, yes; but if there’s a reasonable “Plan B,” then arrival at the departure port a day early is not always necessary. For example, I was in Irvine, California, for a business meeting, and I had purchased a ticket on a cruise line from San Diego back home to the east coast for a departure on the day after my business in Irvine was to end. Rather than traveling to San Diego on the day my business ended–and spend the night in San Diego–I elected to stay in Irvine overnight . . . and to travel to San Diego on the date of departure of the cruise. The next morning I got a taxi from the Irvine hotel to the station in Santa Ana, and then boarded an Amtrak train to San Diego (the station in San Diego is about two blocks from the port). Had there been a major derailment, my train might not have been able to get me to San Diego on time. However, I was not overly concerned with same-day travel to the departure port since I knew that there was also Greyhound Lines bus service between Santa Ana and San Diego, a viable “Plan B” in the event that there might be a derailment. Similar circumstances might exist elsewhere (e.g., people residing in Philadelphia might plan to fly to New York for a cruise departure, but in the event of a flight disruption, there’s “Plan B” by taking the train from the Philadelphia airport to New York). Thus, “it depends.”

  • Wuerzburg

    As the ship sails out of the harbor, I’ll bet the captain says “He missed the ship”

  • Robert Delvo

    Why don’t people believe that “stuff” happens. If you don’t want any issues with the airlines then DRIVE. Then if anything happens it’s your fault. Ok, I am being mean but 1st be there the day before. Not midnight the day before but the DAY before. Yes it will cost extra but will eliminate 99% of the issues. I am done group cruises and we have left friends behind at port of calls. When the boat/ship sails at 6, that is 6 not 6:01. Flying is risky, broken planes, missed connections, lost bags, weather etc. Flying is not PERFECT. So if you are going to bet on PERFECT, then occasionally you will lose the bet. But we should remember that everything that happens up to the point of walking up the boat/ship’s gangplank is your issue not theirs. Not trying to be harsh rather just fair.

  • James L. Morrison

    It is my understanding that if you book air or an excursion through the cruise line that the cruise line is obligated to get you on board. At least that is the policy of the line I use (Seabourn). Are other lines different?

  • lvswhippets

    Drive? Not when you live in CA. & ship leaves from Fla. But I have learned to go in a whole day ahead to avoid any crisis. The only fight I ever missed was when I was in my 20s (a long time ago) from San Fran to Santa Barbara. With out blinking an eye I was put on to the next flight. Old days!

  • Éamon deValera

    The only cruises that can leave from and return to a US port must be US flagged. That is the Jones Act.

  • DChamp56

    Funny that we didn’t hear “The rest of the story” about the person in the beginning of this. If RCI indeed booked their flights, RCI is responsible to get them to the first stop. I agree, you can’t hold up ~3000 people for 2, but I’ll bet they did get to the ship the next day or so. Not telling the rest of the story does a disservice to everyone Chris, you and RCI. Also, it seems this couple MAY have been late to the airport.

  • donna gyland

    I voted that the cruise lines should take a hard line, to a certain degree( they have to or they would not be able to meet itinerary demands)….not saying that they shouldn’t assist or try to wait…but lets dissect two of your statements in the above article. The cruise line guaranteed to get them there….NO, the cruise line guaranteed to get them to the next available port if they miss the ship when the law allows. The problem occurs when the airline or weather causes a missed connection to the ship. The cruise line CANNOT take responsibility for either. Nor do they state that they do. They simply state that they will assist, whenever possible, get you to the next port of call. Why aren’t you taking a hard stand against the airlines? It seems to me this is the real problem here. REALITY CHECK. if you are flying to a cruise, fly in the day before or you may be staring at a “four day vacation in Ft Lauderdale”….as the next port of call that you are allowed to board may be four days later. The problem here is the unpredictability of air travel. Now that the airlines are concentrating on filling every seat, there are less direct flights, shorter connections, and more misconnects…then rescheduling on the next “available” flight most likely will not get you to your destination on time to catch a ship or a tour for that matter. Also, unless a cruise ship is flagged in the US(and there are none in the ocean with the exception of NCL Hawaii, Pearl Seas or one or two there SMALL luxury lines), there is no “domestic” cruise….so why are you even discussing “domestic” travel. The Alaska cruise requires a stop in a foreign port. Therefore, it is no longer domestic travel. And you refer to the Jones act as if to say that this is just what the cruise line is using as an excuse….It’s not a poor excuse, it is a harsh reality. The Jones act was enacted to protect domestic trade, but was written during an era when there were virtually no cruises to impact. Lets take another scenario: Transatlantic….If you miss the embarkation, depending on the itinerary, you may be flying to Europe and miss half of your 14 day cruise. This is just a hazard of cruise vacations, just like missed connections are hazards with air travel and bad weather is a hazard associated with land vacations. SO FLY IN A DAY EARLY and increase your chances of avoiding a missed ship, and take some self responsibility. Flying in the same day is ALWAYS a gamble.

  • Lindabator

    Actually the port authority restricts/controls departure times, so if you miss the boat, not a lot the cruise line can do. As for the Alaska cruise, he was boarding in Canada if I remember correctly? so the Jones act would take effect, as you can’t just skip to a domestic location instead.

  • Lindabator

    Cannot force a client to go in early – and if the flight does NOT get there in time, and no other options will, not much anyone can do at that point. Jones Act violations will not allow you to skip the foreign port of call, and boarding IN Canada means you don’t make the ship, they CANNOT put you on in another port. Same problems aries when you do not have a passport, and the next port of call is foreign.

  • Lindabator

    But does not work in the Alaska cruise case, as you CANNOT board a ship in the US, only visit the US and leave from the US. His problem was the BOARDING was the Canada stop, so they couldn’t put him on at the next stop. Should have flown in a day earlier.

  • Susan A. Slicker-Nemeth

    We always fly in a day or even two before a cruise to somewhat adjust to a time zone change, (we are 2 and 3 hours behind our cruise embarkation point and the cruise destination.) So we do not have a problem being late.

    The most problems for us that come up is with access for disability and I have to say, we are fortunate to not to have had a lot of problems with finding help getting wheelchair assistance on and off the ship due to long lines and long wait times or during the cruise should my legs or feet swell. I can walk short distances, but not carrying luggage, and I cannot stand in lines for more than about 10 minutes, before my knees give out and my back starts to scream. I need both knees REPLACED due to advanced arthritis and I already have had one spine surgery.

    But as I have stated we have had very good luck with the ship crew helping us get on and off. I do walk while aboard the ship, but not for long periods of time and I do not stand for long periods of time onboard or for excursions. I just can’t or I will be on the bed lying down for hours after.

  • judyserienagy

    It’s awful to have a much-anticipated trip disappear before your eyes. If only one person reads this and acts on it, I’ll feel good: If you prepay travel expenses, insure them. People who say they can’t afford insurance on an $8K cruise are lying to themselves. Just figure the insurance cost into the bottom line. Just. Do. It.

  • judyserienagy

    I agree with you, Travelnut, I’ve gotten a LOT more nervous about the transportation parts of travel since I got involved with Elliott! Now when things go smoothly I’m amazed and grateful.