Their passports sailed to the Bahamas, but they didn’t

By | January 16th, 2012

Anne Newman’s holiday cruise from Baltimore to the Bahamas on the Carnival Pride got off to the worst start possible when two members of her party — her brother and father — were left standing at the dock because of a paperwork problem.

No, they didn’t bring the wrong birth certificate. Instead, they had inadvertently packed their travel documents in their bags and checked them.

Newman wants to be compensated for their denied boarding, and she wants me to help her.

How did this happen? Well, Newman’s father and brother were new to cruising. “This was their first time on Carnival and both their first on a cruise,” she says. No one had explained the them how it worked — that your bags are sent to the ship while you check in.

“Upon checking in the luggage, my father immediately realized that he left his and my brother’s passport and birth certificate in his checked luggage,” she remembers.

The family began searching for the luggage frantically, with her brother and father waiting in the boarding area, and the rest of the family looking in the vicinity of their cabin for the bags with their paperwork. They asked Carnival for help, but even its employees couldn’t track down the luggage on time.

The ship departed without them.

She adds,

After the ship left the port, within 30 minutes, I found the missing luggage with vital documents on a trolley sitting idly on the cabin room floor by the elevators with other luggage.

It seemed that every cabin had luggage left outside their door while the luggage that was most needed was not located by staff but by myself shortly after departure.

My entire family was angry, frustrated, and incredibly sad for the family members that were left behind on what should have been an epic Christmas vacation. My father and brother were unable to board the ship to prove their legal status even though their luggage was held captive on board the ship with their passport and birth certificate inside the luggage.

There were many tears and angry words exchanged and the cruise was ruined.

But all was not lost. Newman’s family found a last-minute airfare from Baltimore to Orlando, the next port of call, and the two missing family members were able to rejoin them for the Christmas cruise. But fixing the mess cost more than the original cruise.

“It was a Christmas nightmare,” says Newman.

She wonders why Carnival couldn’t post signs in the luggage check-in areas, warning passengers not to pack their passport or birth certificate in their checked luggage? Why couldn’t the bags be found sooner? And why couldn’t the cruise ship allow them to board, and then show their documents after they were found?

Newman wants either a refund or some form of compensation for the “heartache and mental, emotional, and financial trouble which ensued on this trip,” but Carnival has refused. She sent the company an email, to which it hasn’t responded yet, and followed up with a phone call, in which she was told there were “no exceptions” to the company’s document requirement.

Carnival turned down her request for a refund or credit.

I feel for her, but I’m not sure if I can help. Her brother and father made the mistake of checking their passport and birth certificate with their luggage, and although Carnival could have made more of an effort to find their bags, it was under no obligation to find the luggage or let the family members without passports or birth certificates board the ship.

I agree with Newman that a cruise line should have special procedures in place for passengers who are temporarily separated from their passport. Problem is, how could Carnival have known that their documents were valid? Also, since her father and brother eventually boarded the ship and took the cruise, how would they be entitled to a refund?

I don’t know if this trip can be saved, but I’m not opposed to trying. If nothing else, it’s an important lesson learned for anyone who is about to set sail: Keep your passports close.

(Photo: cali4nia dreamn23/Flickr)

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