Cruise lines last week endorsed a “Cruise Passenger Bill of Rights” in a bid to head off further fallout from a string of mishaps that have put the industry under political scrutiny.
CLIA said its members unanimously endorsed a 10-point plan that in a power outage would guarantee the rights of passengers to emergency power, timely information and a trained crew.
Passengers would also be guaranteed the right to leave a ship if essential provisions cannot be provided, but only if the ship is already docked. That right would also be subject to the judgment of the ship’s captain.
The idea for such a bill of rights was first floated by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) in March following a five-day odyssey during which the Carnival Triumph, disabled by an engine room fire, was towed to port without enough power for passenger services.
A backup generator powered key ship functions but not most toilets, elevators, air conditioning or kitchens.
Schumer called on the industry to voluntarily adopt his six-point bill of rights, patterned after rules set for the airline industry by the government following a string of incidents in which passengers were subjected to lengthy tarmac strandings aboard jetliners.
CLIA President Christine Duffy said that CLIA took Schumer’s six points and added four more that seemed relevant.
“This demonstrates the commitment of our cruise line members, who unanimously supported this, to be very transparent and very clear about what passenger rights are, in the rare event of a mechanical failure or power failure,” she said.
Whether the 10 points will quell efforts on Capitol Hill to broaden regulation of the cruise industry is unclear. Pressure is being applied not only by Schumer but by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Commerce Committee, who sent a letter May 7 to cruise executives posing a sweeping list of questions.
Duffy said Schumer was advised before CLIA announced its bill of rights and asked for additional information.
CLIA has sent 14,000 travel agents a letter and Q&A about the new policy, Duffy said.
The rights will be included in the cruise line’s contract of carriage, making them enforceable, Duffy said. In many cases, cruise lines are already doing what the bill of rights requires.
One right, for example, is to a full refund for a trip canceled due to mechanical failures. Cruise lines routinely issue refunds plus vouchers for discounted future cruises in such cases.
Passengers on the stricken Carnival Triumph cruise got an additional $500 cash compensation, which is beyond what the bill of rights would provide. But some rights are not granted by the plan, including the right to passenger comfort services in a power failure.
Carnival Corp. has launched a $600 million to $700 million program of upgrades to ensure that its ships have dual backup generators not only for crucial safety functions but for passenger comfort.
Although the fixes are not yet completed, Carnival already meets the CLIA bill’s minimum standard, spokeswoman Jennifer De La Cruz said. “As we get the second emergency diesel generators installed, we will have more substantial backup power,” she said.
Miami lawyer James Walker, who represents passengers in disputes with cruise lines, said he doubted the bill of rights would be much help. It codifies a partial refund as the remedy for a cruise shortened by mechanical issues as part of the ticket contract, he said.
“This means that the very limited compensation of only a partial refund in a ‘cruise from hell’ situation can legally be enforced by the cruise lines against the passenger,” he wrote on his blog.
He added that the bill is a strategic attempt to pre-empt Schumer’s proposal and avoid legislation that might include penalties and fines.
Press aides for Schumer and Rockefeller had not responded to requests for comment by press time last Thursday.
As Schumer requested, CLIA will seek the U.S. Coast Guard’s help in sponsoring the bill of rights at the International Maritime Organization, which will be asked to apply it globally.
The bill of rights is now in effect for passengers buying tickets in the U.S. on 26 lines that market cruises in North America. Duffy said CLIA members in other regions will be adding it but that the association wanted to move quickly to get the first phase of the policy in place.
Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly.