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

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)

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.

More Posts - Website - Twitter - Google Plus

  • y_p_w

    Having flown many times before (domestic and international), I can’t think of any reason why I’d ever pack any kind of ID or travel documents in my luggage.  My photo ID goes right in my wallet.  I have a passport card, and that also goes in my wallet.  If I carry my passport on me, it goes in a neck wallet.  My wife prefers putting all her ID/documents in her purse, but it always remains with her.

    Nobody with a lick of sense should ever place travel documents in luggage.  It should always be on the person.  The first thing I do before I leave is check my travel documents and make sure I have the right ones.  Then I stash them in the assigned places on my person.

    I would also note that I like having both a passport and passport card.  The passport card is proof of citizenship should one need to enter a US embassy or consulate after losing a passport, and can be used to return to the US on a cruise.  I like keeping my passport in a separate place, because it might come in handy if my wallet is lost or stolen.

  • J

    Is it the cruise line’s document policy, or the State Department’s? I just don’t see what is accomplished in blaming the cruise line for not locating a checked bag prior to departure when there were 2,000+ other passengers also checking bags and boarding. The OP isn’t saying the cruise line didn’t try, just that the cruise should be responsible? And then saying:

    No one had explained the them how it worked — that your bags are sent to the ship while you check in.

     Really? When you’re voluntarily separated from your bag you should expect to see it again before you’re on board? And would a sign reminding passengers not to check their passports in the check-in area have helped when she says this:

    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

    I just don’t see what’s to mediate. A passenger made a mistake, the cruise line was not able to help resolve the issue prior to departure, the passenger corrected the mistake by meeting the ship at the next port. Why shouldn’t the passenger pay the cost the getting to the next port, and why should the cruise line?

  • johnb78

    I’ve never been on a cruise, but I’m not sure I’d have known not to put my passport in my bag before boarding – my assumption before reading this piece was that a cruise worked like being a foot passenger on an international ferry, where you bring your own luggage on board and aren’t ever separated from it.

    When you board an international aircraft, you have to present your passport *at the same time as* you’re separated from your hold luggage, at the check-in desk, making it impossible to check it in by mistake. This strikes me as something that cruise lines would be sensible to adopt.

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Cruiselines offer a baggage check right at drop off, as you typically need to wait in long lines to actually check-in and no one wants to haul suitcases thru that long, trust me. I would venture that these people aren’t only new to cruising, but infrequent travelers as well. The fact that angry words were exchanged is telling. Angry at who? For what? Check-in is one of the busiest times on a cruise. All personnel are in hyper-mode making sure everything is ready. And even though they say your baggage may not make it to your room until the evening, you bet people will complain if it’s not there within the hour. And to find ONE piece of luggage amongst THOUSANDS is akin to needle in a haystack. Yes, it’s really disappointing. But where did the OP’s family expect the luggage to go once they turned it over? If they couldn’t find it (and they knew what it looked like), how could they expect the porters to? 

    I recently got a new passport but the visa I needed to exit the country was in my old passport. I realized I needed it when I got to the airport. I missed my flight and had to pay for another one, but the only I had to blame was me… (OK, and also my housekeeper who tried to rush to the airport with my old passport but got there 7 minutes too late…)

  • djp98374

    This is a difficult one….carnival is a cruise line that tends to cater toward first time cruisers so they really should should much more courtesy to first time travelers with regards to documents.  This really isnt hard in this day and age.  Im thinking when you book your cruise they could send an email memo regarding what you should have with you..not pack.  There should be other controls on this when you are about to check bags either with signage or people telling you.

  • TonyA_says

    Just the fact that the father and brother were the only ones whose passport were packed in their checked luggage while the rest of the family didn’t, proved that the family themselves didn’t bother to help and inform each other about the necessity of having one’s passport with them for checkin and boarding. Why should anyone else care more about them when they themselves apparently didn’t? I voted NO.

  • TonyA_says

    They do.

    As you prepare for your “Fun Ship” vacation, please keep in mind that proper travel documentation is required at embarkation and throughout the cruise. Even though our guests may have completed registration using FUNPASS, it is still necessary to bring all required travel documents. Please check with your travel agent and/or government authority to determine the travel documents needed for each port of call. Any guest without proper documents will not be allowed to board the vessel and no refund of the cruise fare will be issued. Carnival assumes no responsibility for advising guests of immigration requirements.

  • Monica Kennedy

    I have to say no. I was a first time cruiser myself, and I researched everything I could about what documents I needed and how the procedures at the port worked. The information is out there. The “first time” excuse doesn’t work. And it sounds like only dad and bro were first time cruisers. Why didn’t the rest of the party, who I assume have cruised before, tell them what to expect?

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    As TonyA wrote, it is disclosed on the Carnival website.  It is my guess that they purchased the cruise directly from Carnival than buying it from a travel agent.  A professional travel agent would have mentioned the documents to the members to in the party.  They could have spent the same amount of money for the cruise.

  • Crissy

    Maybe the cruise line should have a sign reminding you to keep your travel documents with you.  And I do hope that Carnival actually did try to look for the luggage.  But in the end it’s the passengers responsibility, not Carnivals.  The best I could see Carnival offering is a one night credit towards a future cruise for the time they missed. 

  • Jan

    I feel for these people, but it’s no different than traveling abroad by air.  It’s the cardinal rule of international travel in any form to keep your passports on your body!  

  • LostinTravel

    Since I have become leary of letting anything I absolutely need or cannot easily replace out of my hands when I travel, I would have had my tote bag with my camera, passport, wallet, prescriptions and a change of clothes with me even if I was assured my bag would be at my room within a few hours.  Better to plan to cope with a problem than to have one.  I assume everyone is honest but leaving bags outside a cabin door is not secure, why trust anything critical to that sort of care. I have often wondered if my approach did not make me more vulnerable to theft since anything of value would obviously be in the bag I carry closest to me!

  • toniv

    Some people have to pay more tuition than others to learn basic stuff. 

  • Raven_Altosk

    If you can’t remember to keep your passport on you at all times, you’re too stupid to leave the country.

    That said, I was ALMOST sympathetic until I read this: “heartache and mental, emotional, and financial trouble which ensued on this trip,”

    Cry me a river, lady. Your party screwed up. You’re lucky they were able to join the ship later. Sheesh. Enough with the “mental and emotional trouble.” 

    People, if you are this fragile, don’t travel. Do the rest of us a favor and stay home.

  • Bob M

    Stupid, stupid, stupid.

  • ChrisP

    Exactly! Why didn’t the family provide a “sign warning passengers not to pack their passport or birth certificate in their checked luggage” to their own brother and father?

    Sheesh, it’s a crummy turn of events.  I would be absolutely ticked — at myself — if it happened to me.  But never let your passport go anywhere that you don’t!  Ever!

  • john4868

    Sometimes the steps people will go through to not accept responsibility for their own actions amazes me.
    Most of your group knew you needed your passports. You either didn’t tell your dad or he forgot. Either way that’s not Carnival’s fault. They then did the good customer service thing and attempted to find the bag among the thousands waiting to be delivered but couldn’t.
    Now you blame Carnival and want them to pay for your mistake. Sorry but I don’t see where Carnival had any of the blame on this one.
    Accept responsibility for your own failures and move on. Don’t waste Chris’s time.

  • sirwired

    1) Who EVER puts travel documents in checked luggage?  They go in my wife’s purse, my pocket, or what we have come to refer to as The Sacred Silver Folder; a plastic folder that holds our plane itinerary, trip insurance documents, hotel reservations, cruise reservation, etc.  It never leaves our person until we plop down in the cabin.
    2) You can’t blame Carnival for not finding the bags in time.  There are literally thousands of bags to be sorted.  And even after sorting, until they are unloaded from the cages, they simply CAN’T be sorted through. The bags were found near the elevator not because somebody found them and set them aside, but rather likely because that is where they were going to end up as the next step in luggage distribution.
    3) A Refund?  As was pointed out in the article, except for the fun-filled Baltimore to Florida slog, nothing was missed.
    4) What did they think was going to happen when big paper tags were affixed to their luggage and it got handed to some big burly guys at the curb?
    5) No, some sort of “provisional” boarding wasn’t going to work.  If the documents never showed up, they’d have to be ejected from the ship in Florida, causing “Jones Act” problems.

  • Jerry Constant

    Her brother & dad made the error. It was not Carnival’s responsibilty.
    Having said that Carnival could have let her dad & brother aboard WITH A SECURITY OFFICER to confirm their papers were in their luggage. With that no harm no foulup

  • sirwired

    The problem with escorting them aboard is that oftentimes the luggage doesn’t complete sorting until hours after sailing.  During initial loading, the bags just go into gigantic piles (sorted by deck, which can be HUNDREDS of stacked bags in a cramped place) in back hallways and compartments.  The bags are shuttled to the decks one elevator-load at the time, where the bags in that particular batch (which could be any cabin on the deck) get sent to rooms.  If their bags were at the bottom of the pile and turned out not to have the passports, they’d be on the ship with no documentation and they would need to be ejected in Florida, which causes expensive legal hassles for the cruise line.

  • Pegtoo

    Wow are they lucky the first port was Orlando and Dad and Brother had the opportunity to catch up! Be grateful. 

    Lesson learned. Don’t ruin the memories of the entire trip with such anger. “It was a Christmas nightmare”…Stop it. It was NOT. You were all together.  It may have cost more than planned, but they were together for their “epic Christmas” celebration. 

    And next time, help your family BEFORE the trip, so you aren’t so crabby AFTER.

  • Tygar

    Sorry folks, personal responsibility.  To bad, so sad!  It’s unfortunate but everyone should know to keep their IDs on their person. 

    Carnival can’t be held accountable for the cruiser not knowing a well published requirement.

  • sirwired

    You’d think that affixing big paper tags to your bags and handing them to burly guys at the curb would have been a clue that you are about to be separated from your luggage.

    Unlike on a flight, thousands of passengers (with LOTS of luggage) need to be checked in VERY fast, many of which cannot handle their own luggage.  Combining luggage hand-off and passenger checkin would be untenable because of the complete chaos of well over a thousand people trying to shuffle their bags through lines in a space that is often cramped.  (Especially if you arrive early… where would you PUT all the people if they still had their bags?  Unlike a flight, checkin can’t even begin until the ship has been completely unloaded from the last trip.  It’s a lot easier to pile the bags in the warehouse while the passengers wait separately in the waiting room for things to start.)

  • David Burge

    Okay, I’ve never been on a cruise. But why would someone need to show a passport to travel from Baltimore to Orlando?

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    haha. I almost feel guilty “liking” this…

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Obviously the cruise was going further than Orlando… Better be careful. I think you’re swimming in the same water as the people referred to in Raven’s post…

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Obviously the cruise was going further than Orlando… Better be careful. I think you’re swimming in the same water as the people referred to in Raven’s post…

  • Lindabator

    Since your luggage is dropped off with handlers BEFORE you check in, clearly you don’t have your luggage with you when boarding.  And would you have put your ID in your checked luggage when flying?  Don’t think so.  This was just an instance of foolishness, and no one else needs pay for his mistake.

  • Lindabator

    They do – but no one can force someone to actually READ IT!

  • Lindabator

    No, they have to be cleared PRIOR to boarding.  That is not even an option Carnival could have offered. 

  • Lindabator

    Foreign ports of call – it isn’t just sailing to nowhere!

  • Michelle Buchecker

    We went on our 1st cruise last year, and even though we are frequent fliers, the whole checking in process was confounding and confusing. I honestly never expected to be separated from my luggage since I’m used to always carry-on on flights. We tagged all of our bags and backpacks because it looked like we were supposed to, but weren’t 100% sure why since we figured we had to haul them to the cabin ourselves. Then once we figured out they haul them we decided to let them haul everything (which would have included our passports), but then we learned we would board but not be able to get into our rooms for 2 hours so we kept our backpacks, which had our passports.

    I can see in the confusion of which line do we stand in, what do we do, that you could easily send your passport in your “checked” luggage. However, saying that, it seems like the cruise line did attempt to help before sailing and that it really can’t be held responsible.

  • TonyA_says

    Also, I assume that no one will be allowed to disembark in Orlando since that ship is registered in Panama. IMO, allowing passengers to board in Baltimore and disembark in Orlando would violate the Jones Act (cabotage rules).

  • IGoEverywhere

    It does not seem correct to mediate somebodies stupid actions. Oops happen and you pay for it! A good ASTA travel agent would have told them not to pack their documents. You do it yourself, you pay dearly for your actions.

  • TonyA_says

    Raven, I have to admit, your wonderful comments are better than drinking coffee in the morning. They give me a stronger jolt. Thanks.

  • TonyA_says

    Just to add… (in the last decade) I haven’t stayed at a hotel overseas where they did not ask to see my passport. In Italy, I believe they even photocopy them. I remember taking a river boat cruise in Provence (within France only) where they required us to give them our passports. Why would anyone assume that you can go anywhere outside the country without showing one’s passport nowadays? 9/11 changed everything in travel.

  • mencik

    So why didn’t their Travel Agent tell them to keep their important papers in their carry-on luggage? Oh, they probably didn’t use a travel agent. “Without a Travel Agent you are on your own!” No mediation to save stupid passengers is necessary.

  • Nancy Dickinson

    “heartache and mental, emotional…trouble”
    Really?  They made it to Orlando in time to go to Bermuda with the rest of them and the rest of the gang anguished over it?

    Rule number 1 as a traveler – never pack your identification and/or travel documents in your suitcase.  And given these two were new to the cruising life, why didn’t someone else in the group make sure their loved ones knew what should be done?

  • Nancy Dickinson

    This is actually a good idea, having both the card and the actual passport.  Thank you for mentioning this.  I now plan to get one for my husband, son and I.

  • Anna Grice

    I was shaking my head throughout reading this story.  I don’t travel much but I’ve known since I was a kid to keep important things such as ID, boarding passes, medication, etc. on you at all times.  With me being a purse carrying woman, its a no brainer…. just toss it into my purse.  My husband either gives me his stuff to carry or puts it in his pant pocket.  The part where she asked why they couldn’t post warning signs to not leave important papers in checked baggage made me laugh out loud.  I thought that was common knowledge but apparently not.

    If she and her family took responsibility for their obvious mistakes which were in no way Carnival’s fault (Carnival didn’t pack their luggage; they did) I may be more sympathetic.  Reading these kinds of stories makes me so angry as I see the sense of entitlement and coddling go up and up.  To the people who voted yes, I would like to see the reasoning behind it.

  • DavidYoung2

    I guess Carnival could have allowed them to board but, if they couldn’t produce the documents by the time they docked in Orlando, they would have to disembark.  It appears the first leg was Baltimore to Orlando, so no passport would be needed up to that point.

  • HeyItsK

    I know the article says that the next port of call was Orlando, but that’s just not possible.  It could have been Tampa (2 hours away) or Port Canaveral (1 hour away), but not Orlando, which is landlocked.

  • BillCCC

    Cruise lines can be faulted for many things but they can not be faulted for not explaining the rules for boarding. I can not think of any other mode of travel where you do not keep your documents close at hand.

    Chances are that if you pursue the case they will receive a credit of some sort.

  • Bill Armstrong

    It is unfortunate this happened, and even more unfortunate that the cruise line was unable to find the checked bags.  However, you cannot legislate common sense.  Expecting someone to put up a sign saying not to put your passport and tickets in checked baggage is kind of like asking someone to put a sign up by the exit to the bathroom saying “please do up your pants before leaving the bathroom”.  Despite best efforts, people do make mistakes. Fortunately, the two family members were able to join the cruise later on. Should Carnival pay for this mistake?  NO.  We all know who made the mistake and therefore they are the ones who should pay.  They have no one to blame except themselves.

  • Bill Armstrong

    I won’t be giving anyone my passport and the hotel in London that wanted to photocopy mine was told that they were not allowed to.  I told them they could see it and that should certainly be good enough.  They accepted my argument fortunately.  This business of copying vital information is unacceptable.

  • Catherine

    When you fly anywhere do you pack your ID in your luggage? Somebody wasn’t thinking straight. But it’s not the cruise lines fault, so I think this family needs to shoulder the blame like good little travelers and consider it a valuable lesson. Maybe that’s what happens when it’s left up to ‘the men’ to do their own packing? Just a thought…

  • y_p_w

    It’s Port Canaveral.  Carnival refers to it as “Port Canaveral (Orlando), FL.

  • y_p_w

    I got mine less than a year after they became available. I just got one for my kid.  They’ve made a few sensible changes.  They’ve got more security codes on the front and back now.  Mine actually had my name and several bits of information printed right where the hologram is located.  It’s a bit hard to read and doesn’t show up well on photocopies.  My kid’s passport card has all the name and other stuff offset a little to the right so that it’s not blocked by the hologram.

    The following is what the original layout looked like.  You can see where part of the given name, the M for male, place of birth, and issue date is obscured by that “USA” hologram.

    I really like using this for routine stuff where I need a photo ID. A few times I’ve had store clerks say it was cool, and one bank teller said that she’d never seen one before, although she knew what it was because tellers are trained on different types of IDs.

  • y_p_w

    I’ve been far more careful about this kind of thing since I’ve been burned.

    I visted a foreign country with a friend who was a native of that country.  This friend didn’t need a visa and was a fairly recent green card holder.  Well at one point in the trip I asked to see the green card just in case, because I didn’t want there to be any issues when we returned.  Once I saw the document, I noticed that it wasn’t a green card but rather a temporary work authorization document (clearly said “NOT VALID FOR TRAVEL”).  USCIS had also issued a couple of reentry letters that hadn’t expired yet and would have been valid in lieu of a green card, but those were also left at home.

    Back then the green card looked pretty basic and looked almost identical to the work authorization card.  These days they prettied up the green card, with an image of the Statue of Liberty and some microprinting of the 50 state flags on the back.

    My friend had to wait a bit (and the change fees were ridiculous) for the green card to arrive via FedEx.  A friend had the keys and was told where to find the green card.  That was a costly lesson.

    The basic problem was that when we left the US, there was no check by the airline that we had the documents needed to return to the US.  I’m a US citizen, so they checked for my visa.  As a native of the country, my friend didn’t need a visa, but the counter agent didn’t ask to see a valid re-entry document.  At least the cruise lines are pretty thorough and ask to see the travel documents needed to re-enter the US.

  • Tanya Bidwell

    I voted no.  My first cruise was with Disney and while checking our baggage at the terminal, the staff clearly stated time and time again, you will not see this again, make sure you have your passport.  Also, we were with friends who were seasoned cruisers and they made sure we knew to keep our passports out.  I feel for them, as this can happen, when you are not paying attention, but why would you ever separate yourself from important identification documents?  Also, the rest of the family figured it out, why did they not alert the father and the brother?  I know from having also been on a Carnival cruise, that the staff is not as good as Disney’s and that they are more loose in the baggage area, but I still remember being asked if I had my passport out.  This was a mistake, not of Carnival’s making, and they were reunited at the next terminal. 

    I agree with Raven, if you are that sensitive and unbending, then please don’t travel outside of your comfort zone.  Leave it to those of us who go with the flow and consider this a funny story for the friends and a little adventure!