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I Missed My Ship! What Now?

Written by: Paul Motter

You arranged a flight from your hometown to the port city where your cruise departs. According to the airline’s flight schedule, you had plenty of time to check into your cruise before the ship sailed. But due to circumstances beyond your control — weather, or mechanical issues with the airline — you miss the ship. What happens next? You may have a few surprises ahead.

When you book your cruise, the cruise line will offer to make your flight reservations as well. Not long ago, most people believed that if the cruise line booked your air tickets, it would assume responsibility for getting you to the ship no matter what happened — at the line’s expense. The assumption was that the cruise line would put you on another flight, or failing that, they would put you up in a hotel and fly you to the first port of call.

Unfortunately, that common misconception has never been true except in cases where the cruise line (not the airline) caused you to miss the ship – a very rare occurrence. The only reason I can even conjure is the ship making an early departure due to impending bad weather – which is something I have actually never seen. Here is the real story: If you miss the ship because of any kind of problems with your flight, it is not the cruise lines responsibility, and maybe not the airline’s either.

Strangely enough (or perhaps not), the cruise lines never did much to clear up the misconception that they would take responsibility for getting you and/or or your luggage to the ship no matter what. But it was debunked a few years ago, as the Internet made such detailed “fine-print” knowledge much more publicly available. People drifted away from cruise line air bookings, causing a loss of revenue for the cruise lines.

In response, most cruise lines came up with new “special air programs” that once again lead you to believe there is an advantage to booking air through the cruise line, but now you have the privilege of paying a premium for these services. Two examples are “Choice Air” from Royal Caribbean and the “Princess eZair” program, although all of the major cruise lines have air programs that are similar.
Let’s look at Royal Caribbean’s Choice Air: The fee is $15 per person for a domestic flight, $25 for international flights. That is not an exorbitant fee – but probably more than you might pay any travel agent to help you with air reservations. But what exactly do you get?

“At our Choice Air Web Site you can purchase airline tickets at the best prices, on virtually any airline, and even have access to some terrific Choice Air Specials. Once booked, you’ll know your itinerary in advance, your carrier and seat assignments, and that your flights fit perfectly with your cruise vacation. Ground transportation between the airport and seaport is also available.”

Basically there isn’t anything promised here that any competent travel agent can’t do for you. These days, the online prices for airfare are virtually the same everywhere, including the Choice Air Web sites. Yes, you “can” purchase tickets at the best prices — just as you could if you saw the best prices at any other airfare web site.

I especially like the phrase “Ground transportation between the airport and seaport is also available.” Yes, it is, at the same price everyone pays for ground transportation regardless of where the air tickets are purchased.

“Choice Air: Assured Arrival gives you peace of mind by knowing, if and when flight schedules are disrupted, we’re with you 24/7 working with our airline partners to rebook your flights. Royal Caribbean International will work with the airlines to get you to your port on an alternate flight, or if necessary, to the closest available port.”

In truth, the airlines will change any flight for a passenger whose flight has been canceled without charge anyway, but canceled flights are not the major problem. The problem is delayed flights that will cause you to miss your connection or the ship sailaway. The airlines charge passengers to rebook flights that are merely delayed. There is no law that says your flight has to arrive at its destination at any specific time.

All you get for your premium payment is the cruise line air program agent working on your behalf to get new flights booked so you don’t miss the ship. There are no guarantees and if there is a change fee by the airline you will be responsible for paying it. Even worse, the potential for an airline to get you on another flight that will get you to the ship on time is quite low. These days most flights average 80% full, and when flights get delayed or canceled later flights fill up quickly.

The alternative of getting you on a flight to the first port of call is a possibility, but it is also going to cost you. The airlines only promise to get you to the destination you originally booked – they don’t care if you missed a cruise ship. Any change fee will, as well as the cost of the flight to the next port of call and the cost of a hotel to stay until if needed will be your responsibility. To be very clear – the only thing these air packages promise to do is “work with” the airlines to help make changes to your flights, but there is no promise to pay for any additional charges.

Once again, the language of the ChoiceAir program:

“We’ll continue to monitor flights to identify air travel disruptions that could jeopardize your timely arrival at the ship. If any flight disruptions or delays occur, we’ll be prepared to assist you. In the event of a delay that causes you to miss your ship, we’ll work with you and our airlines for 48 hours to find a reasonable alternative so you can meet up with your ship at the next port (when feasible). For complete peace of mind before – and during – your trip, consider CruiseCare, our vacation protection plan.”

It is the sentence about “for complete peace of mind” that tells the whole story. “CruiseCare” is the line’s trip insurance program, and having trip insurance is the only way you will ever have a flight rebooked for you at no additional cost. That insurance program is available to you no matter where you book your air.
The following paragraph is one of the most misleading, in my opinion.

“If there is a disruption to your cruise schedule that causes you to miss your return flight, we’ll work with you and the airline to get you on another flight at no additional cost.”.

Yes – they will work with you at no additional cost, but according to the cruise line spokesperson I communicated with, if it is not possible for them to make flight arrangements that do not involve any additional charges by the airline then you will be paying the additional charges. Remember – there are only two ways a cruise line will guarantee that you meet your ship:

1) if the reason you missed the ship was the cruise line’s fault, or

2) if you buy trip insurance for your cruise, which generally costs between five and ten percent of your total vacation cost per person. In my opinion, you are far better off spending the money on insurance than on special air programs from the cruise lines.

Note: I do not mean to single out Royal Caribbean – all of the special air programs have similar rules and language in their contracts.

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Comments

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time June 14, 2011 at 6:24 am

Pauls account of the missed ship or flight should come as no surprise. In actuality, there is really no true safe guard to assure you arrive to/from your destination as he ponts out, accurately. Accuarcy in information is really what this site is about, thankfully.

We always book with a travel agent, a real agent, with an actual office, the kind of office people can walk in, take brochures – etc – not an on line unknown agency. We book as follows: The CRUISE – transfers from airline (or hotel) TO THE SHIP – and transfers TO AIRPORT (or hotel) – lastly, we have our TA book the air with the cruise line DIRECTLY – we have never had a problem booking and being served by doing so. On the occasions that something has gone awry, Mark, our TA has managed to get everything working. We are known for changing air, adding pre or post hotel stays and cancelling and rebooking air, and still, our TA comes through. This may not be a guarantee for success for every cruise, or even provide any results should the unexpected happen. Yes, we have used him for years, and he is truly professional.

By booking with a TA he/she will be on everyones back to get the whole package to work for you, the client. Or, should work towards that goal.

We had a real mess with winter weather a few years back. We were fine, in our warm Virginia climate, flying to Miami for an Oceania Cruise. Our friends in Vermont had a blizzard, and made four plane changes – all worked out by our TA to get them to Miami. Oceania held the ship until midnight, for our friends and other late guests,. all made it to the ship. However, our frinds had friends traveling on RCI, and they missed the ship, and had to fly on their own to San Juan, footing the bill,- why – they booked with an on line agency, and nobody would answer their calls or e-mails – and the airline did nothing – in short, they drove home in a blizzard, spent two days there, and barely made it to the airport to get the flight to San Juan. Nice when a 7 day cruise becomes 4 and a half days. Incidently, they overpaid for the cruise and did not even get an appology from RCI.

Comment from rciaddict
Time June 14, 2011 at 7:31 am

Kenneth:
Why would this be RCI’s fault? The online TA should have been working on alternate travel arrangements for your friends in VT. Hopefully your friends had travel insurance! As a resident of Northern New England, I always have travel insurance and at least one pre-cruise night in port.

Comment from Paul Motter
Time June 14, 2011 at 7:42 am

No one is saying a missed flight or even ship is RCI’s fault… but my point is that the language offered by some of these cruise line air programs – including the examples given from RCI above – can be very misleading, giving people a false sense of security.

Not everyone knows everything they are supposed to know about cruising before they book a cruise and when they read something they tend to take it at face value.

I personally think it is important to point out how this language can be misleading for the uninitiated.

Comment from Dave Beers
Time June 14, 2011 at 8:08 am

Getting to the departure port at least a day early always is the best insurance, and all it costs is the price of a hotel room.

Comment from Bob
Time June 14, 2011 at 12:29 pm

While air passengers have no specific rights on flight delays, remember you do have rights should you get involuntarily bumped from an overbooked flight. Even with these rights you still may miss your ship and be SOL for catching up.

Comment from Dave Beers
Time June 14, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Another thing to consider is cruisers who do not know the rules for flying internationally. Many new cruisers still refuse to get a passport and cruise on closed-loop itineraries where a passport isn’t mandatory. Should they miss the ship they will not be able to fly to the first port in most cases, since that first port is usually a foreign destination.

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time June 15, 2011 at 6:23 am

As I stated above, the on line agency did not answer any calls or e-mails on behalf of those poor people. I spelled it out clearly, and NO, they did not have any travel insurance, why? Because the on line agency did not try to sell it,. AND is it RCI’s fault, NO, it just happened to be RCI that they were booked on, AND RCI would not “interfere’ with a non direct booking, nor would the airline, since it was booked through a travel agency – that would hold true whether the agency was on line or a friendly neighborhood shop.

The bottom line is READ YOUR travel docs, air and cruise, and read them WELL. If you can not underatand the legalize, have a real travel agent vested in the knowledge of the verbiage help you to underdtand it, or, demand that the cruise line spell it out for you, by calling the line direct.

As for travel insurance, that is a whole “nother” can of worms, as there are good and bad policies to purchase out there.

Comment from millis glashaus
Time June 19, 2011 at 4:09 am

Sounds not good. Thank you for sharing this valuable info though.
To admit, we also thought, it would be “safer” to book the “all inclusive”-service with the air and shuttle-arrangement this time (even though we know, it’s much more expensive, than booking it on our own with the national express-shuttle form Heathrow to Southampton incl. one night in the Premier-inn prior to cruising), since last year the vulcano-fuzz in Iceland really mixed up some travel arrangements and we didn’t want to take the chance of losing everything at the end, if anything alike would occur again while we need to travel from CH/DE to GB for embarking the QM2.
Well, there is always something to learn, right? Let’s hope the best as we also do for all our fellow-cruisers on all itineraries. The only thing that keeps us calm is to think about the cruise 2012/13, since then we only need the train and those arrangements we always do on our own (with always 1 night prior and post to cruising – to be on the safe side, since the Deutsche Bahn also has it’s “slight” problems with breaking down trains etc.)…

Comment from Doug
Time July 1, 2011 at 11:43 am

Dave Beers is right. The only way to make 99% sure you don’t miss the ship is to get to the port the day before the cruise. Paying $90+ for a decent hotel room sure beats missing the cruise plus the $$$$$$ expense of catching up to it later.

Comment from Jennifer Brown
Time May 26, 2012 at 7:29 am

United airline had a mechanical problem which caused 29 people to miss our cruise. We have insurance and they put us in a hotel. What are the chances that Royal who made all the arrangements will send us on another Alaskian cruise at their expense because we already paid for it once. Help!

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