Is this enough compensation? A do-over for being denied boarding on my cruise

Veda Robinson and Jackie Smartt were looking forward to their Carnival cruise last December. But they never made it on board. Smartt had packed the wrong ID, and the cruise line left her standing at the dock.

They also left Robinson standing next to her.

Actually, it was a little more dramatic: Robinson says she was told she wasn’t going anywhere without Smartt, and then the pair was escorted from the building by security, even though they made no effort to resist.

In other words, Carnival denied Robinson boarding, even though it had no reason to.

Robinson and Smartt had to buy a last-minute airline ticket back to Memphis. Robinson contacted Carnival and asked for a full refund of her ticket, since she feels she should have been able to take the cruise. After all, the cabin had been paid for, and she had the right ID.

In response, Carnival offered her a do-over cruise, based on availability, in February.

Why not a full refund?

“Carnival will not reimburse me for being denied boarding, even though I had documentation, because they recently advised me that the personnel at the pier asked me, “Do you want to board?” and documented on my incident report, that I said no,” she says.

That’s untrue, she says.

I’ve reviewed the correspondence between Robinson and Carnival, and that seems to be the cruise line’s final answer — either take a last-minute cruise this month or lose everything.

The cruise line’s position is polite but firm:

We have conducted a thorough review of all the documentation in your file and have spoken to the Guest Logistics team who was present on the day of sailing. Although Ms. Smartt was not able to travel because she lacked a WHTI compliant document, we have found no indication that you were improperly denied boarding since you were in possession of the required travel documents.

While we regret your disappointment, we are unable to extend any compensation in this regard.

This case raises a few question. First, where is Robinson’s travel agent in all of this? She booked the cruise through a AAA-affiliated agency in Memphis, which should have advised her and her friend of the ID requirements. And not only that, but the agent should have also gone to bat for her when she was denied boarding.

Robinson, in a follow-up email after this story was posted, says her agent did advise them with what she thought were the correct documentation requirements.

Our travel agent did inform Jackie to bring a certified copy of her birth certificate or passport. They were unaware the cruise did not take certified hospital birth certificates, until I informed them the day of the cruise, and Jackie did not inform the travel agent that she only had a certified hospital birth certificate. Our travel agent was definitely upset with the way Carnival treated us.

Second, while I can understand why Carnival might assume Robinson didn’t want to cruise without her friend, there must have been some kind of documentation on the circumstances of her denied boarding. Why wouldn’t Carnival give her a piece of paper that says, “You were denied boarding, and here’s why”?

It seems strange that she would be escorted through the terminal without any paperwork changing hands.

Carnival’s ticket contract — the legal agreement between her and the cruise line — doesn’t mention the possibility of being denied boarding because your cabin-mate can’t take the cruise. Maybe I’m missing something in the dense legal document.

I understand why Carnival might take this position. Refunding her cruise would cost it real money, while offering space on a future sailing wouldn’t, from a revenue point of view.

It’s a better business decision. But is it the right customer-service decision?

So it comes down to Robinson’s word against Carnival’s. The cruise line claims she opted not to take the cruise; she says she wasn’t given a choice. It says she voluntarily left the terminal; she says she was escorted by security officers.

Is the do-over enough, or should Carnival refund her entire cruise?

Wow, quite the response to this one!

If I had it to do over, I probably would have tried to distill this case more succinctly, to avoid some of the confusion when I initially posted this question. These cases can turn a little fuzzy, sometimes.

Thanks to my readers for pointing out some of the inconsistencies and prompting me to clarify some the circumstances. You’ve all made this a better story.

Update: (3:30 p.m.) I’ve heard back from Robinson with an update. She says her AAA agency did indeed contact Carnival on her behalf “and got no response,” so the agency recently refunded her cruise. It isn’t entirely clear if the refund happened before or after her latest contact on Feb. 11, when I asked for and received her permission to write about this case.

“My purpose was that I did not want this to happen to others, because other guests at the pier had the same problem and were having their birth certificate faxed to Carnival,” she says, adding, “Please remove the article.”

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 Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Galvezdna

    a definate yes. when you plan for acruise you set many things aside from your schedule , this diniel is the most devastating situation you can ever be in specially the expenses you have acrued to make this trip. people dont to a boarding dock to get denied, you ar focused to make the trip not to have unexpected inconveniences.

  • Nan

     Had a similar situation, except that My husband and I were not allowed to board, because my 75 year old husband’s birth certificate was not accepted, since it was  hospital issued.  FYI , as noted in a comment  below: a passport is not a requirement on a closed loop cruise. When we booked this cruise, last minute,I was told that I needed a marriage certificate(which I had to order, expedited), birth certificates, as well as, driver’s licenses. We presented with all documents in hand. At check in, I was told that the marriage certificate was not needed, which made me wonder, if all this was for security, why wouldn’t they want to see why my 2 forms of ID don’t match. WHTI requires passengers on closed loop cruises to have a birth certificate, or a copy, but does not specify that it be state issued. So being judgmental is easy ,but the bottom line is that the procedures are not always mandated by homeland security.They, also, are less rigorous about clearing the people who work on the pier, according to a Baltimore DOT web site.There, however, was no recourse , but to accept our fate, a terribly unhappy experience for our 40th anniversary. We may or may not get any remuneration, from the travel insurance. As for the cruise line(RCL), they have the fare and did not have to provide the meals, room etc., so they do come out ahead.
    Lastly, having never intended to travel abroad,we did not “shirk” getting passports. And once again, they were not required by the cruise line.

  • y_p_w

    Just revisiting an old subject (and seeing a time where all responses were “flat”).

    What the requirement for a birth certificate means is a government-issued certified birth certification.

    A so-called “hospital birth certificate” is nothing more than a souvenir with almost no legal weight.  My kid has one.  It’s actually a sticker on top of some card stock with handwritten entries.  What they require in practice is a document that is issued by a city, county, or state office with the signature of a registrar and an official seal.

  • y_p_w

    I understand that they don’t necessarily say that that specific souvenir isn’t a legal document.  However, most people think of the hospital birth certificate as nothing more than a piece of paper with footprints.  Anyone applying for a passport, using a birth certificate for I-9 proof of eligibility to work in the US, or submitting a child’s birth certificate for proof of age (schools and Little League Baseball may ask for it) knows that only a birth certificate form issued by a government office is a legal document that can be used in that way.

    They really should clean up their wording.  The State Department has clear descriptions of what is or isn’t acceptable as a birth certificate for issuance of a passport:

    Primary Evidence of U.S. Citizenship (One of the following):

    + Previously issued, undamaged U.S. Passport
    + Certified birth certificate issued by the city, county or state*
    + Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certification of Birth + Naturalization Certificate
    + Certificate of Citizenship

    *A certified birth certificate has a registrar’s raised, embossed, impressed or multicolored seal, registrar’s signature, and the date the certificate was filed with the registrar’s office, which must be within 1 year of your birth. Please note, some short (abstract) versions of birth certificates may not be acceptable for passport purposes.

    ** ** **

    I’ve looked more into the restriction on abstracts.  I understand their problem is with Texas and California abstract forms.  Texas still issues them, but California discontinued them around 2001. The issue with Texas abstracts is that they don’t list the attendant. In quite a few cases it’s been midwives who have fraudulently registered a birth in Texas for a child born in Mexico. The State Department wants to see the name of the attendant, (available on the “long form”) as they have a list of names of midwives suspected of filing fraudulent birth certificates. There are also some people who were delivered by midwives not suspected of fraud, but still haven’t gotten their passports. It’s really an issue in Texas, where a lot of border towns thrive with people freely crossing the borders to go to school, shop, visit family, etc. Border crossers now need passports, passport cards, or other WHTI approved travel documents in order to cross without being delayed for a status check.

    In California, the issue was the abstract was on a fairly simple piece of paper and didn’t even include an embossed seal. There had been lots of counterfeits circulating and few government agencies were accepting them because of the rampant fakes out there.