Wednesday 7 December 2016

Don't sniff at cruise controls

Gemma O'Doherty

Published 15/01/2011 | 05:00

Library image
Library image

You've booked the cruise of a lifetime. Your bags are packed, you've made it to the port but, when you get to the gangway, you happen to sneeze. Your dream holiday could be about to turn into a nightmare.

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We recently heard about a couple who were all set to join a liner in the Caribbean when they were approached by an employee at the check-in queue and asked if they had suffered an upset stomach, vomiting or diarrhoea in the previous 48 hours.

The husband answered honestly and said that he'd had a hint of a bad tummy earlier that morning because he was a nervous flier. But that was enough to knock their holiday plans on the head.

The agent went away and returned with a letter stating that they could not travel because of the illness. The cruise company were unwilling to take the risk of a virus spreading throughout the ship and jeopardising the health of everyone on board.

The couple were turned away and told to claim a refund on their travel insurance policy, but when they put in the claim, they were informed it was invalid because there was no proof of illness.

They were told that because the airport representative was not a medical professional, she was not qualified to make that decision and that the insurance firm was perfectly within their rights to demand a letter signed by a doctor in order to pay out on the claim.

The cruise company had fallen short in that regard and at the very least should have encouraged the couple to go straight to a doctor to get a letter confirming the illness. It also had a duty of care to its customers under the EU Package Travel Regulations 1992, which it had not performed.

The Irish-based insurance company refused to pay up, so the couple applied to the Financial Services Ombudsman. The ruling took a year but the Ombudsman ruled in favour of the insurer.

The couple went back to the cruise company and said that they had been wrong to tell them that the insurer would pay out. After another stern letter from the client, the company finally gave in and paid a full refund.

However, they stood over their decision not to let the couple board.

In situations like this, forewarned is forearmed. In this case the cruise company was at fault, but if the couple had stood their ground from the moment they were turned away, they might not have had to wait as long as a year for a refund.

Then again, if they had ended up on another ship, the Carnival Splendor, before Christmas, it would probably have put them off sailing for life. After a fire shut down its power supply, it was left stranded in the Pacific Ocean for three days.

The 3,299 passengers on board, who were looking forward to gourmet meals, cinema showings and a luxury spa, ended up with cold showers, meals of Spam and Pop Tarts. airlifted in by the US military, and evenings spent playing Cluedo and Monopoly.

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