Court will hear class-action suit against NCL

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NEW YORK -- A California court denied a motion by Norwegian Cruise Line to dismiss a class-action complaint filed by 38 senior citizens who contend they missed a July 2000 Alaska cruise because NCL booked their air and cut it too close on the arrival time. The would-be vacationers also allege NCL refused to refund their money.

The group's travel agency, VIP Travel, a Vacation.com agency in Rialto, Calif., is a party to the suit.

The plaintiffs were to have sailed aboard NCL's Norwegian Sky.The denial of NCL's motion means the case will proceed in California, said Linda Platisha, an attorney for the plaintiffs. NCL had asked the San Bernadino County Superior Court to dismiss the original complaint because it was filed outside of Florida, where NCL is based.

Cruise contracts routinely include "forum selection" clauses that seek to restrict legal proceedings to the cruise line's home state.

The San Bernadino judge ruled that NCL's forum selection clause "could not be rejected without a substantial penalty and so was fundamentally unfair," Platisha said.

VIP Travel owner Barbara Ott said her agency booked the group on a seven-day cruise on the Norwegian Sky and bought air tickets for travel between Ontario, Calif., and Seattle from NCL's air/sea program in 1999.

Ott's group also bought NCL's passenger and baggage protection insurance plan. The cruise was scheduled to depart July 2.

Ott soon learned the flight from Ontario to Seattle left her group with only a two-hour window to travel from the airport and board the ship.

When she told NCL's air/sea representatives she feared her group would not make the ship in time, Ott was told NCL "reserves the right to choose the air carrier, routing and city airport" and would not reissue or exchange the air tickets.

Ott's group arrived at Ontario airport on the day of departure to find their Alaska Airlines flight canceled. The plaintiffs missed the cruise after attempts to accommodate them failed.

NCL, according to the complaint, promised the group refunds but never issued them. The company also told the group that the insurance they purchased did not cover their situation.

NCL did offer to put the plaintiffs on another cruise within a year of the original sailing, said Ott, but would only reimburse them after they embarked on the new departure.

"It has been the biggest nightmare I've ever had as an agent. It was disastrous," said Ott, whose been an agent for 11 years. "My agency is a small one, and I take my job seriously. It's understood in this business that if you buy cruise line air, you are protected, and that's clearly not the case," Ott added.

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