We are pleased and relieved that Royal Caribbean International has decided to offer compensation to the passengers who were stranded in San Juan when Hurricane Irene closed the port and caused its Serenade of the Seas to make an early departure on Aug. 21.

As initially reported in our news pages, 15 passengers who had booked their air through the company were offered hotel accommodations and air tickets to catch up to the cruise, but another 130 who had not were, in the harsh words of Royal Caribbean's unofficial fan blog posting, "on their own."

The cruise line initially explained that this was a weather-related event, the early sailing was mandated by the Port of San Juan, and the treatment of the passengers was consistent with Royal Caribbean's policy on deviations and cancellations.

All true, but there are times when good customer service means you deviate from policy and go the extra mile. A hurricane strikes us as one of those times.

As Royal Caribbean demonstrated in the wake of last year's earthquake in Haiti, and at numerous other times, this is a company with a fine record of good works in times of crisis.

It was perplexing to see that reputation put at risk by a decision that seemed patently out of character.


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A deviation of a different sort on a United Express flight out of Boston has us wondering, once again, if paranoia has become an unofficial job requirement for flight crews.

We refer to the strange case of Vance Gilbert, a folk singer from Arlington, Mass., who describes himself as "a 6-foot-tall, bespectacled, slightly graying, 52-year-old, 230-pound African-American male with a close haircut."

According to an open letter he has written to United Airlines, Gilbert boarded a United Express regional flight from Logan to Washington Dulles on Aug. 14. After the door closed, a flight attendant asked him to place his fanny pack in the overhead compartment, but he volunteered to place it under the seat in front of him instead, as it contained his wallet and he preferred to keep it near.

According to his letter, he is an amateur aviation historian, and "I had taken out and was reading a book of Polish aircraft circa 1946 and I was also looking at views of an Italian aircraft from 1921. I think you see where this is going ..."

Yes, the aircraft returned to the gate, and Gilbert was asked to step into the jetway and explain the fanny pack and the book to the police and Transportation Security Administration agents. Inspecting the book, the police officer looked at an Italian triplane from 1921 and remarked, "Why, this is all Snoopy Red Baron stuff."

Gilbert was allowed to return to his seat, and the plane eventually took off, "over an hour late."

What happened here? Was it the fanny pack, the book, Gilbert's physical appearance? In a subsequent blog post, Gilbert said he had been in discussions with United about reparations and was going to put "sensitivity training" for employees first on his list of suggestions.

He added, "And let's be clear, I didn't get snatched off of a plane because I was black. Nor was I removed just because I was reading an antique book of aviation. It's the combo ..."

We don't know what kind of rule book the United Express crew was following, but as far as we're concerned, they can throw it out and start over.

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