Elmer Purkey suspected there might be trouble with his birth certificate on his planned seven-day Eastern Caribbean cruise on Holland America’s Eurodam. He’d been born at a U.S. Army hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, to an American father and a German mother, which made him a natural born U.S. citizen.
But what would the cruise ship employees say when he showed them his birth certificate? So Purkey tried to find out. He contacted Holland America. He got its response in writing.
It didn’t matter. The cruise line denied him boarding anyway, saying it wasn’t enough to board.
“I was left abandoned on the dock like discarded garbage as the ship sailed away,” he says. “It was a very disappointing and traumatic experience.”
Holland America’s paperwork requirements are crystal clear on its site. It states:
It is your sole responsibility to obtain and have available the proper travel documents that are necessary for your travel, including all costs related to arrangements to obtain entry to countries you visit and re-entry to your destination country. Boarding may be denied or fines may be levied against those guests without proper documentation.
Can I travel?
That’s exactly what Purkey says he tried to do.
“I was obviously concerned about the potentiality for confusion with my documentation,” he says. “That is why I contacted Holland America directly a month prior to our departure. After explaining in detail to them the exact nature of my documentation, and being reassured by a HAL representative, and her supervisor, that there would be no problem with going on this cruise with this birth certificate, any hesitation was relieved.”
He sent me the chat transcript.
Here’s an excerpt:
Purkey: I have the original birth certificate. Will this be OK?
HAL: YES, that is totally fine.
After Purkey was turned away when he tried to board — an event he describes as “humiliating” — he asked the cruise line to help him with a do-over.
No way, it replied. If he wanted to pay for another cruise, Holland America would offer him an upgrade. But it said that having the right birth certificate was his responsibility, and it’s sorry for the inconvenience.
“It only added insult to injury,” he says.
Holland America speaks
The cruise line’s rebuttal is interesting, and it suggests that we’re missing the full story. Here are the relevant parts of its response:
We empathize with everyone who faces denial of entry onto our ships and share in their disappointment. However, information regarding visas, passports, and immunization requirements is the responsibility of each and every passenger. Guests and their agents must familiarize themselves with current requirements in advance of boarding any cruise entering foreign ports of call.
Upon our review with both ship and port officials, it was discovered that Mr. Purkey had already been in dialogue with us and advised that his documentation was not sufficient.
He was directly told he would need to get a passport (Polar booking notation made on December 3, 2012). Further review was made with port officials regarding their dialogue with this guest. They responded that the guest was instructed to contact our Guest Relations office for review and possible compensation allowance under their unfortunate circumstance of being denied boarding.