Christopher Elliott, The Travel Troubleshooter, April 30, 2013
Shortly before her cruise to Mexico sets sail, Regina Hatfield and her family are ushered off the ship. The reason? She's experiencing sharp pains in her kidney. Now her cruise line wants to keep her money. Is it allowed to do that?
Q: We were recently scheduled to sail on a seven-day Carnival cruise to Mexico. A few minutes after we boarded in Long Beach, Calif., I had horrible kidney pains. I couldn't walk, and felt as if I was going to pass out.
My husband immediately took me to the medical doctor on board. He performed an ultrasound and I asked for something for the pain. All of a sudden he said you need to get off the ship because you have a kidney infection. Within two minutes we had three Carnival employees rushing us to get our bags and they escorted us off the ship.
All the while, I could barely walk. One of the employees told me not to worry, that I could cruise at a "later date." Everything happened so fast. I was never given a choice of whether to stay on board or not.
We did not even unpack our bags in our room. We used none of the ship's amenities. We had other friends on board who said that within a few hours, Carnival had upgraded another couple into our room, which had a balcony.
When I called the customer service number, they said I would not be getting any money back and I'm not able to take my cruise at a later date. I was shocked. I paid $2,000 for the cruise. I really just want to take the cruise I paid for at a later date, or get a refund.
-- Regina Hatfield, Sacramento, Calif.
A: I'm glad you're feeling better. Carnival was correct to take you off the ship and seek medical treatment. Trust me, you wouldn't have wanted to take your chances in a Mexican hospital, which may - or may not - have the same level of care as an American medical facility.
But Carnival could have been clearer about your right to re-take your cruise at a later date. Under its ticket contract, the legal agreement between you and the cruise line, it could deny you boarding and refuse to offer you a refund on your cruise fare (it would, however, need to refund any port taxes it collected).
How about insurance? Well, you booked this cruise directly through Carnival, and when you called it, you weren't offered insurance. But even if you had been offered insurance, I'm not convinced that you would have been covered. An insurance adjuster might have argued that your kidney pains were a pre-existing condition and denied your claim. Don't laugh; I've seen it before.
It's highly unusual for a passenger to be shown the door at the start of a cruise in this way. Obviously, this isn't something you can control, and if you could, you would choose to stay healthy and enjoy your vacation.
I spoke with Carnival about your case. A representative suggested insurance might have been helpful, but stopped short of saying your claim would have been honored. I think the fact that you were not advised of insurance when you booked your cruise directly helped your case. Carnival offered you a do-over cruise.
(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). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at [email protected]. Christopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, and though he answers them as quickly as possible, your story may not be published for several months because of a backlog of cases.)