Trend Watch – Would a Cruise Passenger Bill of Rights Work?

washington dcEven as Carnival works to implement a fleetwide review following last week’s troubles, the industry is still dealing with the impact of Senator Charles Schumer's call on the cruise industry to establish a “Bill of Rights” for cruise passengers. What would such a bill mean, and would it have any real effect?

Senator Schumer said, “This bill of rights, based on work we’ve done with the airline industry, will ensure that passengers aren’t forced to live in third world conditions or put their lives at risk when they go on vacation.” He also indicated that, in the event of a shipwreck, passengers should have a right to medical attention, backup power and basic provisions.

The idea seems to draw inspiration from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Passenger Bill of Rights, which took effect in 2010 with the intention of limiting lengthy tarmac delays on U.S. carriers. Since the bill took effect, tarmac delays have dropped significantly– from 693 delays of three hours or longer in the 12 months before the rule took effect to 42 in 2012.

So far, industry response to the cruise version of this idea has been wary, with some of our readers doubting the seriousness of Senator Schumer’s intentions.

“Waste of time and taxpayer dollars,” writes Jason Coleman on our Facebook page. “Schumer's focus on the cruise industry is another stall to fix the problems in Washington.”

Ironically, the airline Passenger Bill of Rights also originated as something of a PR move. One of the first proponents of the idea was JetBlue, the airline whose infamous ten-hour tarmac delay kicked off the public outrage that fueled the push for the new rules.

Travel Agent was among those who criticized the airline at the time for spinning a disastrous week for flights into a public relations strategy.

Even if a cruise bill of rights gains steam, implementation would be difficult because cruise ships operate in a very different regulatory environment than U.S. airlines.  

“A ‘bill of rights’ for cruise passengers, as suggested by Senator Charles Schumer, would have to go through the International Maritime Organization (IMO) or the international organization that governs international tickets,” warns cruise industry expert Dr. Andrew O. Coggins. “The US Coast Guard is our nation’s representative at the IMO in Geneva.”

Even so, cruise industry organizations have managed to push through reforms in the past, such as the comprehensive safety review CLIA launched in the wake of the Costa Concordia accident, so it’s too early to tell where this idea will go.

Keep visiting for further updates on this developing story.