What Is Fair Compensation When “Ship Happens”?
Written by: Kuki
Of course the cruise lines wish there were never any disruptions to any of their ship’s sailings, and their passenger’s enjoyment of their cruises, but as rare as they may be, they do occur. And the question is … What is fair compensation for these various disruptions to the product the customer’s have paid for?
In the case of the Norwegian Dawn last year, NCL gave customers a 75% refund, as well as a 50% discount off of the cost of a future cruise, which on the face of it certainly seems like fair compensation to me.
However, in the past, in various situations where disruptions to trips have occurred, the amounts of compensation, and types of restrictions on the use of compensation offered have caused great debate.
The “Cruise Contract” – the “fine print” in your ticket, which no one ever reads – ”allows” the cruise line to change an itinerary, or even cancel a cruise entirely, without offering any compensation. For business, and public relations reasons the cruise lines of course will normally offer some form of compensation hoping to smooth their relationship with their customers.
The most common of these disturbances to cruises is a ship missing a port visit due to weather; such as high seas in ports without docking facilities, which require operating tenders to get passengers ashore from the ship at anchor off the coast. In these situations most cruise lines seem to offer only a refund of “port charges”, which amounts to about $25 per passengers.
The cruise lines certainly have no control over high seas and weather related issues, so I do think any form of compensation to itinerary changes in those situations is fair and adequate. The simple truth for those booking cruises is that if you are booking a cruise based solely on the desire to visit a particular port, with no chance of missing it, is DO NOT go by ship! Fly there!
Occasionally a ship has to alter their itinerary, and miss ports because of mechanical issues with the ship. In those situations I believe the cruise lines should bear greater responsibility… and therefore be required to offer greater compensation.
Yes, mechanical problems can and do occur through no negligence of the cruise lines, and yes in many of those cases it’s difficult to make the required repairs quickly and efficiently while at sea. However, in my opinion the cruise lines should not expect the passengers to entirely pay for the cost of that occurrence, and it suffer it’s impact on their cruise, without fairly significant compensation. The customer has no means to prove whether the mechanical breakdown was a random occurrence, or a result of some form of lack of maintenance. And therefore satisfactory compensation should be negotiated with reason by both parties, which isn’t an easy task.
Then there are situations, like last year’s Dawn cruise, where mechanical problems cause cruises to either be shortened or cancelled all together. There are no hard and fast rules to what the cruise lines offer for compensation. When similar situations arise each cruise line decides and announces what compensation they are going to offer. Then, often, some passengers will attempt to negotiate further compensation than what was announced directly. In some cases they are successful and in some cases they are not. The cruise lines surely want to pay as little as possible to affected customers, yet keep them reasonably satisfied with the resolution. Without doubt that is a fine line to walk.
As well as those described above, the cruise lines will on occasion cancel a cruise because they have chartered out the entire ship to a large group or organization. Sometimes, when that happens, there are previously booked customers, and once again the cruise lines have to decide how to compensate those who are previously booked. They have to determine the compensation offered by considering how much notice of the cancellation they are giving. And even when the charters are announced many months in advance, there of course are some people who would have previously booked air transportation, or have booked flights using their frequent flyer miles (which often have to be booked a year in advance for availability to more exotic destinations.
Obviously all of these various scenarios leave customers disappointed their cruises have been affected, or cancelled, and certainly there is always going to be some who remain unhappy after the compensation is offered. Unfortunately it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to have standard compensation packages to cover every occasion. But it would certainly help the consumer if some of these situations were addressed on the cruise lines own web sites, with clear cut guidelines of the compensation they would offer. That would at least make it possible for their customers to be educated about the possibilities; though the cruise lines aren’t likely excited about advertising those possibilities.
No doubt we all have various opinions on what the compensation should be in the situations. And no doubt those who are unfortunate to be caught up in one have stronger opinions than those of us who have avoided them, and may have a position more sympathetic to the cruise lines.
I’d certainly be interested in hearing from our readers, offering constructive suggestions on what you think would be a fair calculator of compensation in some scenarios. Maybe someone can come up with a standard for the cruise lines to adopt.
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Posted: December 1st, 2009 under Paul Motter.