He missed the boat and Royal Caribbean doesn’t care

If at first you don’t succeed, try again. And if you’re dealing with Royal Caribbean, again and again.

And if that doesn’t work? Write a story.

Which is why I’m telling you about Lowell Bower. He and his family were scheduled to fly from Orlando to Vancouver, where they were scheduled to start their Alaska cruise tour on the Radiance of the Seas. Bower and his family had booked the airline tickets through Royal Caribbean’s Air2Sea program, which offers some protections for passengers.

But thanks to a delay in getting the aircraft to the gate in Los Angeles, his connecting city, he missed his flight to Vancouver. Bower says Royal Caribbean was royally unhelpful in fixing the problem.

“Their response was, ‘Sorry, there’s nothing we can do for you,'” he says.

Bower then paid a walk-up fare on a WestJet flight, but after he cleared customs and made it to the port, the ship had sailed. He and his family returned to Orlando the same day.

Bower wants a $1,708 refund for the extra airfare and a $2,342 cruise credit, so he can repeat the Alaska cruise this summer.

I reviewed the lengthy correspondence between Royal Caribbean and Bower. It appears a travel agent was involved in this debacle, but until now, has been unable to help. Also, the cruise line has tried to keep its communications to voicemails, presumably to keep this conflict off the Internet.

Perhaps they’ve never heard of transcription services. It’s a neat concept. It allows anyone to turn voice into text.

And that’s where we get the following non-response from the cruise line:

Hi, this is Jackie from Royal Caribbean Corporate Guest Relations. I was just calling about the email that you sent over regarding your missed sailing on the Radiance of the Seas August 7th, I just want to apologize for any disappointment missing that sailing did cause.

Per the note you sent here I do see that you missed the flight not because the flight was canceled or has mechanical issues but that you were late to the flight, that is why you were not able to make the cruise, which unfortunately will not fall under the insurance guidelines as per (unintelligible).

ChoiceAir assures you that if you are not able to make the sailing because of something we have done such as mechanical error, flight delays, cancellations or things of that nature we will do our best to get you to the next port-of-call.

Unfortunately with this particular sailing there are laws called the Jones Act where we are not able to put you on another flight or put you on another sailing on that particular cruise. Let me apologize for that. I see that you have been fully refunded for the refundable portion of your cruise including your taxes, gratuities, and any other refundable components such as shore excursions.

Should you have any further questions or comments feel free to give me a call at 800-256-6649, and again my name is Jackie.

That doesn’t really line up with Bower’s version of events. The delay happened because of a late-arriving aircraft, which caused him to miss his connection. The cruise line then threw its hands in the air, according to him, putting him in the position of having to pay more just to try to get to the ship. Jones Act, Shmones Act. The cruise line didn’t help this customer.

I figured there must be more to this story, so I contacted Royal Caribbean. The first time, it didn’t even acknowledge the email. Two weeks later, I reached out again. This time, my contact said she hadn’t received the first email, but would look into it. A few more weeks passed, so I sent a third reminder. Silence.

Here’s the thing: Apart from the vague dismissal Bower shared with me, I have no idea what actually happened. Did he actually have enough time to connect, and did he maybe stop by Starbucks for a latte on his way to the connecting flight? Why didn’t his agent help him? Why didn’t the ChoiceAir, or Air2Sea, or whatever Royal Caribbean calls it, kick in like it was supposed to?

I think Bower deserves a better answer. The “no” from the cruise line still might stick, but at least he’d know why.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say Royal Caribbean wants to be left the hell alone to deal with its customers as it pleases. I’ll let them, just as soon as I finish writing this story.

Should Royal Caribbean have turned down Lowell Bower?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • JewelEyed

    I can’t answer the poll question, but the situation certainly deserves to be made plain for everyone involved.

  • Alan Gore

    If Bower arranged his whole flight through Royal Caribbean, not just the LAX-YVR part, then RCL is responsible if the connecting flight does not make it to the gate in time for the connection. Was that the arrangement? Otherwise, he should have allowed an extra day and would have to depend on insurance..

    LAX is notorious for gate delays, though these generally occur when international arrivals are backed up in Customs. Was there something about the specific kind of delay in this case that RCL is using as an excuse?

  • John Baker

    These are the case that I absolutely feel for the letter writer if everything he said happened. They did everything they were supposed to including buying their air and the insurance from the cruise company and they still had issues.

    Having said that, the discrepancy between the LW’s story and the cruise line’s seem to be significant. It all comes down to if his connection was really late at LAX or something else happened in the connection. That should be easy to check given computer databases so I’m not sure why the cruise line would go down that path unless their arriving flight was ontime.

  • Tom McShane

    When a spokeslady apologized for “any disappointment”, is she implying that the affected customer may not actually be disappointed, but just in case he is, she is apologizing? I think a non-disingenuous spokeswoman would say “We apologize for your disappointment.”

  • Naoma Foreman

    Did they have INSURANCE? If not — TOUGH.

  • Pat

    Although it is very easy to believe that the Royal Caribbean messed up, more information is needed to make a decision. I would want to see the scheduled and actual departure / arrival times for each flight and the time they needed to be to the ship by.

  • Jeff W.

    How much of a time difference was there between his originally scheduled flight to YVR and the walk-up flight on West-Jet? If it was just a few hours, then the original itinerary was booked improperly.

    When booking a cruise, you always have to give yourself enough time in case of flight issues. Why people book expensive cruises and fly to the port city on the day of the cruise is beyond me.

    The delay through customs would have occurred regardless. But he booked his airfare with the cruise company, and they should have been more helpful.

  • Tanya

    I think more information is needed. Make sure the flight was delayed, there are sites that keep track of this, I think. Then, so long as it was, Royal needs to pony up more than the refund of gratuities, port fees, and taxes. It is a shame they were not able to let him re-join the cruise at the next port. It does seem to me that Royal owes him a better explanation if his flight was indeed delayed.

  • NotThatBrooklynGuy

    The customer says the flight was late and the supplier says the customer was late to the flight. One of them is wrong. I can’t vote on this one.


    Flight information should still be available on line for his arrival flight into LAX. It will have the time flight landed and the time it actually arrived at the gate, I did not vote as that is a crucial piece of information we need to know.

  • Doug_S

    I just can’t vote here. There’s such a discrepancy between what the cruise line says and what the customer says that it’s not possible to know who is right without some additional details. I call this case “incomplete” and hope Chris will get further information.

  • larry bradley

    One more reason I book air to arrive the day before a cruise and 2 days before if I am boarding a cruise ship in Europe or South America.
    By the way, he did not miss the “boat”, he missed the ship. A boat is what they put on a ship to save your ass.

  • Tricia K

    Is it really that hard to find out if his original connecting flight was indeed late as he claims getting to the gate as he claims? Making a connection in LA can be challenging at best, especially if you have change terminals as that means you have to go through security again. We had a flight change on our return trip from Hawaii where Delta booked seats for us, but didn’t issue boarding passes back in Honolulu –they weren’t even enough to get us to the gate, so we had to find the ticketing area. Fortunately, an agent who was supposed to handle only first class, took pity on us. At this point we had been traveling over 24 hours (thanks to a tropical storm that hit us in Maui and then caught up to us again in Honolulu). We had two hours on the ground. I was in desperate need of some caffeine, but by the time we got through all of that, we had time to use the bathroom and board the plane. We’ve taken a few cruises, and the only time we didn’t fly in a day earlier is when we sailed out of NY and we were driving. I have to agree with the other posts here: we need more information to really understand this and know where the financial burden lies. I’m a little surprised that Royal Caribbean didn’t offer at least a 50% credit for future sailing. They make a good chunk of their money from onboard purchases. Wouldn’t you at least want to try to retain a customer –especially a customer who did expressed an interest in sailing over the summer?

  • Tricia K

    Is it just coincidental that there is an ad for Royal Caribbean right below the article (that’s how it lays out on my phone). I can’t imagine they would generate many customers from that particular ad after they read the article.

  • cscasi

    “ChoiceAir assures you that if you are not able to make the sailing because of something we have done such as mechanical error, flight delays, cancellations or things of that nature we will do our best to get you to the next port-of-call.”
    Was the Bower’s flight from MCO to LAX late arriving at LAX, was it held up on the ground for a period of time getting to its assigned gate (the configuration of the gates at LAX make delays in getting flights to their gates because if one flight is entering or leaving the alley, the whole alley is blocked because two aircraft cannot get by one another in the confined space. There can be delays of ten minutes or more with that situation and if there is ground congestion, it can add even more time in getting to the assigned gate to park the aircraft.), or what? How tight was their connection time at LAX?
    Sounds like, if the flight was a few minutes late in landing, had to wait to get to its assigned gate and then the passengers had to deplane and in the case of the Bowers, go to another terminal (that could easily take another ten to fifteen minutes depending on the distance between the terminals and then going through security again to get to the gate for the connecting flight, they well could have been too late for their flight.
    They took a WestJet flight from LAX to YVR, but due to the arrival time of the flight, clearing immigration and customs and getting to the port, the missed the ship.
    It sounds like they cut the times too close and had no real time for any mishap(s). How many times have we seen this same scenario play out on here and it always seems to boil down to people not allowing enough time to make it to the ship on time. That’s why advocates here say, time after time, allow an extra day to get to the port; just in case.
    Now, if Royal Caribbean booked this itinerary for them and this happened, it should be responsible (even if the airlines show a 30-40-50 minute connect time of valid. We all know that valid connect times are often baloney in big airports).
    Still, they bought everything through RCL, it should then be responsible to get them from Vancouver to the next port to catch the ship for the rest of the cruise (and compensate them for their mishandling of the flights) or give them a refund.
    I am not sure what else they can do other than try to sue; especially since Chris advocated for them and failed.

  • AgentSteve

    There has got to be more to this story, than what we are reading.

    As a travel agent, who has also cruised to Alaska four times, I am very familiar with the various cruise lines and cruises. In this case, it appears that the client booked a cruise that begins in Vancouver and ends in Whittier. If indeed this was his itinerary, then Royal citing the Jones Act was true and appropriate. Summarily, the Jones Act would prohibit the client from “skipping” Vancouver (a foreign port) and simply boarding the ship, in one of the Alaskan ports.

    It’s imperative to always review in detail, all aspects of flight reservations. Relying on getting to your destination in time, especially based on connecting flights, is risky. While booking the flight through any cruise line can be beneficial, they can not be help responsible, for improper booking/scheduling (unless they did it). Although it may appear that there is adequate time, from arrival until connecting departure, again, it can be risky.

    Since I live in California and Caribbean cruises sail from the east, I always have to plan my flights accordingly, to arrive with many hours to spare. I review which airports I am traveling through and incorporate the time of year. Sometimes I’ll even fly in a day ahead of the cruise; it just depends. I’m willing to sacrifice a few hours hanging around my destination airport, knowing that I am there, than to cross my fingers and pray that somehow I’ll get there, in the nick of time.

    The mention that a travel agent might have been involved, brings a key question to mind. Who, specifically, decided on the flight schedule: agent, Royal or client? When I am booking flights, I discuss the realities of flying delays: on-time reliability; weather; maintenance; crew; etc and advise them accordingly. If a client insisted on a schedule that required running through the airport, especially one with connections, I’d require them to acknowledge that they were advised accordingly and that they accept full responsibility, should the scheduling go awry. Note too that although you may make your connection with seconds to spare, that doesn’t guarantee that your luggage will make it!

    Cruising is a great experience and one of the best value vacations you can take. But like any vacation, proper prior planning is imperative. It’s a shame, that the client missed the cruise and ruined a special family vacation. From the information provided, this was a totally avoidable scenario and we don’t have all the facts, to determine culpability.

  • Mel65

    it doesn’t MATTER if they have insurance if they bundled their airfare purchase through RC, as well and if the airline had an issue that made them miss their connection. That’s the point of purchasing the airfare thru their service so that they assure you they’ll take care of you. If the OPs story is accurate, RC owes him a do-over.

  • Mel65

    Yeah I’m wondering if his “late flight” was somehow interpreted as “late for flight” by RC’s outsourced customer service…

  • Donna Manz

    HEre’s the real challenge … there ARE resources available that notate arrival/dep time of flights … but … what is NOT recorded is the moment a flight makes it to the arrival GATE. I have sat o the tarmac for 30 minutes because no incoming gates were open. So, regardless of when the plane touched down, what is more germane is when the aircraft reached the gate and began its disembarkation process.

  • Alan Gore

    Wouldn’t the Jones Act only apply if he tried to fly from Vancouver to an Alaskan port to catch the ship? Had he known about this before leaving LAX, he could have flown directly (even with stops) from there to the Alaskan port.

  • Rebecca

    He couldn’t join at an Alaskan port because the PVSA prevents a passenger from embarking and disembarking at different US ports. Since it leaves from Canada, they are able to not have a closed loop cruise, like most Caribbean cruises are.

    In this case, if any passenger misses the Vancouver port, they can’t join the ship without violating federal law. I believe there is a $300 fine to do so. Which is actually a realistic amount; why they didn’t help him at all is probably profit motivated, but could be purely logistical in terms of getting him to the next port in Alaska.

  • Stuart Falk

    ” It appears a travel agent was involved in this debacle, but until now, has been unable to help”

    I’d like to know the identity of the travel agent, along with information about the host agency or consortium through which the booking was made. This seems to confirm the reputation of most agents, particularly the large online cruise agencies: that they are only interested in making a quick commission and have no real interest in the wellbeing of the client. Without knowing more about the travel agent’s efforts to help – or, more likely, lack thereof – it sounds to me like Lowell Bower would have been better of by booking directly with the cruise line.


    Actually there are resources that can do that. There are actually 4 times given for a flight–left the gate, take off time, landing time and then time into the gate. All airlines record that information and it is out there. Not sure how long it is up for the public, but it is out there and available at least for time after a flight.

  • Éamon deValera

    The Jones Act? He was flying from the US to Canada. It made no difference the flag under which the vessel was sailing if he was boarding in a foreign country. If he were going to board after the ship sailed AND if he was going to board in a US port AND if the ship was not sailing under a US flay then the Jones Act applies. Don’t just cite obscure maritime laws and then blame them RCL.

    There is a simple solution. Sue them. They guaranteed a seamless transition if you used their service, they didn’t deliver it. Let the court decide if the plane was delayed for a gate and that made the passengers late for the sailing.

  • Helene Apper

    Oh Stuart – if I could only come across the screen and make you understand that those large consortiums are the product of the internet and people wanting to save $25.00. There are travel agents that work hard, bend over backwards for their clients and are available to them 24/7. I am one of those agents. I watch every cruise I book for price changes. I watch airfare and advise my clients when the price is right, in my opinion. I call them before the cruise if they need help with online log in. I call them the day before the cruise to make sure they are ready to go. And if they start their cruise in the US, I call them after they have boarded the ship to make sure all is well with their world. I also don’t let my clients fly in the day of a cruise unless it is absolutely 100% necessary. The cruiselines guarantee they will get you there on time. In this case, they used RCCL’s air option and in my humble opinion, not that of one working for some large consortium that just wants me to book, RCCL is 100% responsible here. They didn’t get them there on time. It sounds to me like the Bowers didn’t look for the cheapest option, they looked for the safe one – which was booking their air through RCCL. That being said, if there was a travel agent involved, I for one would like to know where they were because they should be there fighting for their client. Instead, they are protecting their commission.

    I’m sorry to rant – but there are hard working travel agents out there. It is the mom and pop agencies where you get the best help. I work for a Virtuoso agency which is high end, but not everyone can afford Virtuoso properties. My clients get booked within their budget and I work hard to make sure they get the best price. And I am not alone. There are many agents just making ends meet because these big consortiums taking advantage of volume. They just book. But there are those of us out there that walk you through from day one to the end of your trip. Give one a chance sometime.

  • Stuart Falk

    Fine, but it was Virtuoso that recently banished a cruise line from being a “preferred provider ” after that supplier reduced agency commissions for bookings made onboard a ship and sold by the cruise line stating that first and foremost their mission was to protect and maximize their member agencies commissions.

  • Helene Apper

    And that is a business decision made by Virtuoso. It has nothing to do with how an agent would handle your travel. They banished them as a preferred provider, if I remember correctly, because they would not protect the commission of an agent. For example, if I put a client on XYZ cruiseline, they guarantee my commission if my client books another cruise while on board. But the “banished” cruiseline refused to do the same. Actually, that is Virtuoso protecting their agents which says something for them.

  • Stuart Falk

    As was reported in the travel trade press, Virtuoso removed Disney Cruise Line as a preferred provider, thus discouraging their member agencies from booking them, when they reduced commissions for onboard sales made by the cruise line’s sales staff, to 10% – thus, in effect, sharing them, not denying them. That seems totally fair to me. The point is that in doing so, Virtuoso, like all such intermediaries, only confirms that commissions come before customer care.

  • 42NYC

    Your point would only be valid if they missed their original flight due to illness. If they missed due to a missed connection then rc should cough up.

    I like this new trend of customers who did everything right and still got burned. A lot easier to emphathize with them vs the person who booked their own flight that was supposed to land 90 minutes before the boat left then wants compensation for a weather delay in their home city.

  • Kairho

    Not enough information at this time. First thing that needs to be done is to research the actual flight arrival and departure times to be able to start from facts. http://www.flightaware.com is the place to go for this and it is free!

  • DChamp56

    I’ve been “Loyal to Royal” for 15 years and 26 cruises now, but in the last few years, customer service has dropped like a stone.
    I was one of many passengers on the Anthem of the Seas, the cruise just before the horrible pounding the ship took in that perfect storm in February. Our cruise started a day late because the ship couldn’t get back to port on time, and our itinerary changed completely from what it was supposed to be. Basically they just said “suck it up”, and dismissed the people on our cruise. Sadly, this company has lost a lot of my respect, and they will lost a lot of my dollars.

  • RBXChas

    Even in the US, I arrive the day before. That also gives us time to deal with any last minute issues, such as trips to the drug store. Plus a lot of hotels will shuttle you to the port for a small fee and/or allow you to park your car for a lot less money than at the port.

  • Cruising Addict

    I can’t answer that either. Agree with @agore:disqus. That’s why I ALWAYS fly in the day before, ALWAYS! I feel his pain though, it’s a true bummer.

  • AgentSteve

    The fundamental question remains: what was the client’s flight schedule(s)? Knowing this, would clearly direct culpability. Casting aspersions upon Royal and/or travel agents is without merit. Until the facts are known, all of our replies remain opinions.

  • The Original Joe S

    And opinions are like…..

  • Stuart Falk

    What is representative of poor journalism on Chris Elliott’s part is that he almost always casts his searchlight’s beam on the cruise line (or airline) but spares travel agents from such scrutiny.

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