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.
“It’s all there except about the volunteering to be turned into a manipede,” he says.
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. “What this bill of rights does, in fact, is limit the liability of cruise lines.”
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.
“I would view this as a PR move that effectively limits the rights of passengers,” he adds. “They are proposing rights that are beneficial to the cruise lines, but not to their customers.”
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.
E-mail Christopher Elliott at email@example.com.