Mark Pestronk
Mark Pestronk

Q: My agency's clients just returned from a European river cruise operated by a little-known cruise line. The cruise was delayed at embarkation and then again at disembarkation, and they missed their flight home and had to buy higher-priced tickets. The clients got no satisfactory explanations from the cruise line and no offer of compensation. Do cruise passengers on river cruises in Europe have any rights that are analogous to the EU's regulations for flight delays? What about transatlantic cruises from the U.S. to points in the EU? Have you heard of any applicable regulations?

A: Until recently, I had never heard of any regulations that applied to cruises in the EU or to cruises to or from the EU. However, in reading a recent EU report on passenger rights, I learned that, since 2012, cruise passengers have had legal rights under EU regulations, including rights that applied to your clients' problems.

These cruise regulations apply to river cruises that take place entirely within the EU, even those within a single EU country. They also apply to cruises departing from an EU country and going to a non-EU country such as the U.S. but not to cruises arriving in an EU country from a non-EU country, unless the cruise is operated by a European line. In other words, the rules apply to every cruise touching the EU except for non-EU-originating cruises by non-EU cruise lines.

Unlike the EU's flight-delay rules, there are no rights to monetary compensation for delays or cancellation of cruises, but there are other obligations on the cruise line, including these:

  • If departure is delayed or canceled, the cruise line must inform you of the situation as soon as possible and no later than 30 minutes after the scheduled time of departure. You must also be informed of the estimated departure time and estimated arrival time as soon as that information is available.
  • If the departure is expected to be canceled or delayed for more than 90 minutes, you must be offered amenities such as snacks, meals or refreshments free of charge, in amounts that are "in reasonable relation to the waiting time."
  • If a stay of one or more nights at the point of embarkation becomes necessary due to the delay or cancellation, the cruise line must provide you with adequate accommodations on the ship or ashore free of charge, including transportation to and from the ship where necessary. However, you are not entitled to ship accommodations if the cruise line proves that the cancellation or delay was caused by weather conditions endangering the safe operation of the ship.
  • If you are disabled and the cruise line requires that you be accompanied by a person capable of providing assistance to you, the accompanying person must be carried free of charge.

It certainly appears that the cruise line did not follow some of these requirements. However, what your clients can do about this is very limited now that they have returned home to the U.S.

Courts in the U.S. have held that they cannot enforce EU regulations. A suit in the EU seems hardly worth the trouble, since cruise lines aren't liable for monetary compensation.

However, two other sources of legal duties might provide some relief. If the cruise line failed to provide something promised in the line's passenger ticket contract, your clients could sue in any U.S. state where the cruise line does any business. If you dealt with an EU tour operator or other intermediary, the EU's Package Travel Regulations could provide grounds for a monetary claim.

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