To others, the existing passenger contract is something of a joke, and adding passenger rights language is little more than a punch line.
Bruce Helenbart, an engineer from Hazelwood, Mo., says that he recently had to wade through a 20-page cruise ticket contract and sign it before setting sail. It included disclaimers stating that the cruise line wasn’t responsible for the ship’s doctor, provisions limiting Helenbart’s ability to sue the cruise line, and a clause that allowed the company to alter the itinerary any way it chose to. What’s more, the agreement was what’s known as an “adhesion” contract — a one-way agreement that bound him. If he didn’t sign it, he couldn’t board.
James Walker, a maritime attorney based in Miami, says that customers are correct to disbelieve the cruise industry’s new customer-service rhetoric. “It’s actually a step in the wrong direction,” he told me.
For example, if this bill had been in effect during the Triumph disaster, then Carnival would have been obligated only to refund part of the passengers’ payment — not to repay the cost of the entire cruise, cover passengers’ transportation expenses, zero out their onboard bills, issue a voucher for a future cruise and pay them $500 each, as Carnival did, he says.
The cruise industry needs the positive publicity that would probably come from an uncritical industry press. But more importantly, says Walker, it hopes to keep likely legislation by Schumer, which would have the force of law, from ever reaching the Senate floor.
Bill or no bill, the fact remains that you’re still giving up a lot of rights when you sign up for a cruise. Maybe too many. The only way to avoid that — at least for the foreseeable future — is to stay on dry land.
Christopher Elliott is the author of “Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals” (Wiley) and writes the Travel Troubleshooter column that runs in this section.