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What happens when a cruise line changes departing port and no flights are available?

Dear Anita,

I and five others were to cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) out of New York City to Montreal, departing on September 16. However, soon after the events of September 11, NCL's website indicated a change of departure port and date, leaving instead from Boston on September 17.

We called NCL and learned that our only options were to fly to New York, where the cruise line would then bus us to Boston, or fly to Boston. When we called US Air (our carrier to New York) to make arrangements, we found out that our reservations to New York were cancelled and that there was nothing available to Boston.

While monitoring NCL's website, we noticed that the cruise line was offering future travel certificates for those passengers in the tri-state New York area. When we called, and subsequently sent them a fax, asking for the same treatment, our pleading fell on "deaf ears." To date we have not even received a response acknowledging our request. I believe that we've been slighted, and I would like to report this callous behavior to other agencies and or websites who might be interested in this seemingly indifferent cruise line company. Any suggestions?

David M.
Oldsmar, FL

Dear David,

To find out the whole story I contacted NCL on your behalf, and it seems that NCL did everything possible to reaccommodate its guests.

A NCL representative told me that after the September 11 attacks, all their air/sea passengers had been rebooked on flights into Boston. Because you booked your cruise with I-Cruise.com and your air separately, NCL was under no obligation to rebook your air.

Only consumers who purchase a cruise line's air/sea package are covered in cases like this. Most cruise line conditions of carriage state that because airlines are independent contractors, the cruise line makes no warranty, and assumes no responsibility, for any failures or delays in their contractor's (the airline) services.

In your case, however, NCL understood that many passengers had booked their own air, and went beyond what was required by arranging shuttles from New York to Boston. Furthermore, NCL provided a 24-hour hotline to help customers and travel agents find flights to Boston or New York. If passengers/agents did not try to contact NCL to assist with alternative travel arrangements, NCL had no way of knowing they would be unable to make the cruise.

I firmly believe that had you further pursued your dilemma with NCL and/or US Airways, they would have found you and your party flights to the New York or Boston areas, whether on US Airways or another airline. Flights at that time were operating into New York and Newark, Boston, and alternate airports near each area (White Plains, Hartford, Providence, and Manchester) on the date in question. Florida also has several airports that are within reasonable driving distance from your area.

NCL asserts that it did everything in its power to accommodate customers who were inconvenienced by the repositioning, and therefore, is unable to give you and your party a refund or credit. That said, as a resident of Florida, you are not entitled to the rebate/voucher that NCL offered. It was only for passengers who live in the tri-state area (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut).

Furthermore, I doubt that insurance would have covered you either, as it would have only kicked in if there had not been any options whatsoever.

With your options for a refund waning, I contacted your "travel agent," I-Cruise.com, to see what services they provided for their customers during this crisis. Unfortunately, they did not return any of my phone calls. I am very troubled because it seems that your representative at I-Cruise.com didn't clearly convey NCL's position and that this was a "use it or lose it" situation to you and your party.

When situations like yours occur, you can't always blame the cruise line. A good travel agent is your best defense when things go wrong. He or she (not you) will do the legwork when a crisis comes up. When buying a big-ticket item like a cruise, know what you are dealing with, especially when booking online. Only experienced cruisers, or those comfortable with online booking, should consider Internet travel agencies because there's no guarantee a real person can help out and tell you everything you need to know before setting sail.

I hope I've been helpful. Happy travels!

Anita Dunham-Potter

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