They missed the boat, but it’s not entirely their fault

Tyrone Knight missed the boat, and it’s his fault. Well, not entirely.

He and his wife packed their passports in their bags and checked them before they tried to board the NCL Spirit a few weeks ago.

“We could not show the terminal personnel our passports,” he says.

I can hear some of you laughing. But I’m not. I did exactly the same thing when we flew from Orlando to Calgary a few years ago. Thanks to the helpful agents at US Airways, we were allowed access to our checked luggage and retrieved our passports.

Knight wasn’t so lucky, and now he wants me to fix this mess. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind to the beginning, with the Knights approaching the cruise terminal.

“We had valid passports in our carry-on luggage but inadvertently checked our carry-on with our other bags,” he says.

Since the NCL cruise was headed to the Caribbean, they would need a passport. So naturally, NCL stopped them from boarding.

“We were told to wait in the hospitality area while they searched for our luggage,” says Knight. “I provided a description of the carry-on bag, and I informed them all of our checked bags had NCL red luggage tags with our room number, name and cell phone number.”

Several hours passed.

“We became concerned as the 4 p.m. time of departure approached. I spoke with a person who identified herself as the port coordinator. She told me they had not located my luggage yet,” he says.

Knight told an NCL representative that they’d sailed with the cruise line a few months ago and that NCL had records of their passports in their system. Plus, they also had valid IDs.

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“Both my wife and I had in our possession our State of Delaware issued driver’s licenses,” he notes. “As of July 2010, Delaware’s driver licenses became more than simple cards with basic information; they are high-tech pieces of plastic designed to be more secure and harder to forge. They are 100 percent compliant with the Department of Homeland Security’s REAL ID standards as mandated by Congress.”

But the port coordinator said there was nothing she could do.

“I felt that we could have been allowed to board and be held in a confined location until such time as our passports could be retrieved from our carry on bag,” he says.

The ship sailed without them.

“When the ship returned to port seven days later with our our luggage, after we had returned home, we received a call asking how did we want to pay to have our luggage returned to us,” he says. “That felt heartless.”

Knight wants NCL to cover their hotel bill and air fare home, which comes to $901. They’d also like a chance to take their missed cruise.

Yes, Knight shouldn’t have checked his passport. I’ll bet you that’s the last time he’ll do that. But how hard could it have been to find his checked bag? By Knight’s account, NCL had three whole hours to track down the luggage. How much did the cruise line contribute — or not contribute — to the Knights missing their cruise?

No doubt, NCL is partly to blame for Knight’s denied boarding. But should it be on the hook for a hotel night, airfare and a do-over cruise? I don’t know. But maybe it should do something for him. After all, if its crew had done their job, they would have found the Knights’ luggage and allowed them to sail.

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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 Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • Annie M

    Was this a closed loop tour where the ship departed and came back to the same cruise port in the U.S.? If it was they needed a drivers license AND birth certificate, 2 forms of i.d. If it was an open loop, then he needed the passports and that isn’t NCL’s rules, that’s cruising rules.

    And does he realize that finding his carry on was like finding a needle in a haystack? There are thousands of pieces of luggage that are boarded, it isn’t as easy as he seems to think to find one piece.

    If you go to NCL I wouldn’t attempt to ask for more than possibly a credit for a future cruise.

  • Rebecca

    With 2 people travelling, I don’t buy the explanation that they “inadvertently” checked the bag. How many bags can 2 people have for a 1 week trip? If it was a huge family, maybe I could see that. And a generic carryon with the cruise line’s own tag doesn’t sound easy to find with thousands upon thousands of bags arriving on the ship. There’s a show on the Smithsonian channel I think called Mighty Ships that showcases the insane amount of work that goes on when a cruise ship is disembark and boards passengers. I can completely understand how the staff couldn’t find 1 bag in all that going on. Its so orchestrated to maximize efficiency, deviation from the normam process by several minutes could cause a huge issue. Not saying I don’t feel bad for them, I do. I just do see this one from the cruise line’s perspective.

  • JenniferFinger

    Well, I agree that not letting the board the cruise and then demanding that they pay to have their luggage returned to them is heartless. If nothing else, I would advocate that those fees be returned to the Knights.

    But I don’t know-given that the Knights are, by their account, experienced cruisers, I’m wondering why they didn’t realize that they needed to have their passports ready at the time of boarding and put them in checked bags. Given that, I wouldn’t advocate for any refund of their cruise fees.

  • John Baker

    The fee to ship their bags home was heartless but…

    The mistake rests solely on the Knights. By law, they can’t board the ship without their passports (what if they weren’t in the bag). The bag wasn’t found until after the ship left the dock. Given the literally thousands of bags that the cruiseline is moving, I can understand that.

    Without their passports, the Knight couldn’t join the ship later either.

    Too bad for the Knights but I don’t see where the cruise line could do anything but what they did.

  • KennyG

    “We had valid passports in our carry-on luggage but inadvertently checked our carry-on with our other bags,” he says. I am not getting where NCL is in any way even partly resonsible for their denied boarding and should be on the hook for anything here, let alone hotel fees etc. And as to the cost of shipping their luggage home, why should NCL be on the hook for that either? It wasnt NCL that made any errors here. The travelers messed up when they “inadvertantly” checked their carry on bags. Seems they knew they needed passports on their persons to board. No way to know for sure, but it wouldnt surprise me if they just plain either forgot them and the carry on thing was just an excuse to make themselves look better, or packed them with their checked baggage, but either way, NCL wouldnt even have had a chance to resell those cabins as is the usual argument by so many on here.. They themselves said they recently cruised a few months earlier, so it was not as if they didnt know what was needed.

  • Bill___A

    Sometimes mistakes or problems happen and that’s where you really see whether a place can excel or not. I guess the cruise line failed the test.
    They should have been able to get the bags back in that amount of time because they should have them loaded into the rooms before the ship sails. However, I don’t think one could expect them to drop everything while loading the ship to look for the bags.

    It was the passengers’ fault, not NCL’s, but it would have been nice if they had been able to save the day.

    The cruise ship luggage snafu is believable, Mr. Elliott putting his passports in checked bags on an international flight…how did he get on the plane in the first place? This must have been really a long time ago, because now, like the cruise ship, they check passports before you get on.

  • Tanya

    OK, I could see this happening. Even though, there are generally signs posted and the porters/ cruise staff are generally there asking if you have your passport and important documents on your person. Still, it can be a bit frantic and I can see it happening. As far as finding the luggage, well, do you know how many pieces of luggage the ships crew is trying to load that day? You leave your luggage say at noon, and sometimes do not get it to your room before 7pm that night. It takes quite awhile to sort and deliver, so I imagine finding a piece of luggage is not easy.

    I am not sure NCL owes them much here. This was a mistake on their part, not on NCL’s. I guess I would like to know what else you wanted NCL to do to locate the luggage amid the thousands of pieces of other luggage. Of course, it would have been great had NCL been able to find the luggage. Of course, it also would have been great had the OP not checked the passports to begin with.

    I do think it was poor customer relations for NCL to ask about them paying to get the luggage back, since they missed the cruise. This leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I think NCL could offer them a discount or partial credit on an upcoming cruise. That would be the nice thing to do. Do I think NCL owes them anything, not really.

  • SMFguy

    It’s tough for me to imagine how experienced cruisers could make such a basic mistake about travel which includes departing US soil. NCL (and I presume all other cruise lines) provide many redundant advice warnings about needing your passport to board the ship. In these times of increased national security and terrorist threats, I don’t mind one bit that NCL chose to closely stick to the rules. This was for the protection of the other passengers. Now that you’ve given this case publicity, I would hope NCL would at least deliver their luggage to them for no charge without you having to advocate for them. Have they written personally to the CEO of the cruise line? I’ve done that before and got a quick, positive response from NCL. I do NOT think you (or the passengers) should be advocating for reimbursement of their travel costs to return home. That’s the price they have to pay for a dumb mistake.

  • sirwired

    I don’t see how NCL should be on the hook at all here.

    While the pair may have, in fact, OWNED a passport, the ship does indeed have to make sure you have it with you before you can depart. With many lines, bags do not get distributed until well after departure, meaning their bags were in a big pile in some hallway somewhere in the ship. Not to mention that the staff have a very long list of pre-departure task to perform, and spelunking through bag piles in the frenzy of embarkation isn’t on the list. It’s not surprising that NCL couldn’t find them in time.

    I don’t even think the fee to ship the bags home was “heartless”. Shipping isn’t free, and it none of the situation was NCL’s fault. It’d be nice if they waived it, but I don’t see them as under any obligation to do so.

    When my wife and I cruise, all the important paperwork (airline reservation, hotel reservation, a FULL copy of the trip insurance policy, cruise bag tags, passports, etc.) goes in the “Sacred Silver Folder” (just a plastic silver school folder) that does not leave our person until boarding. (Goes in my backpack)

  • sirwired

    Many lines do not distribute bags until after sailing. It all depends on how the line has tasks set up on changeover day. (And I think all the lines warn you that you might be several hours until you get your bags.)

  • Lindabator

    Port authority had the luggage first, and no telling how long they held the bags before handing over to NCL – NEVER pack your ID!

  • Lindabator

    Correct – and the Port Authority has possession of the bags originally, so not sure why NCL is at fault for their lack of common sense.

  • Lindabator


  • MarkKelling

    Mr Elliott and family were given access to their checked bags BEFORE departure to retrieve passports, not after arrival in Canada.

    Which makes sense because passengers and their baggage must fly together and if they were going to be denied boarding because they were not holding their passports, their bags would also not go on the plane. The relatively few bags going onto a single plane at the airport is a much more manageable pile than those going onto a cruise ship with possibly thousands of passengers.

  • ChelseaGirl

    I can’t understand putting a passport in any bag except your purse, or your pocket. When I travel, I never let it out of my sight. I don’t know how easy it is to retrieve checked luggage when you have thousands of pieces of luggage in a holding area. It is an unfortunate situation, but it isn’t the cruise line’s fault. I don’t think they should get reimbursed for anything, but it would be a goodwill gesture to give them creidt to take the cruise at another time

  • Michael__K

    Why does the cruise line accept checked luggage without ID? That would not only seem prudent from a security standpoint, it would eliminate this all-to-common problem.

  • flutiefan

    couldn’t have said it better myself!
    i’m floored that ANYONE would think NCL had any responsibility in this matter whatsoever.

  • nyctraveler

    The NCL Spirit ship can hold close to 2,000 passengers, so even if the ship was only at 75% capacity and each passenger had 1+ checked bags you’re talking about at least 1,500 pieces of luggage that would need to be rummaged through during embarkation to try to find their one carry-on. I’m afraid that’s a tall order. Sure, it would have been great if they had found it in time for them to board. It would have saved the day. But it’s not difficult to understand why they couldn’t.

    I’m sorry that they missed their cruise (that really sucks), but it wasn’t due to NCL’s negligence. I fail to see how this is in any part their fault. The OP obviously made a mistake in putting their passports into that checked bag and they have learned a lesson – an expensive one – but a lesson learned nonetheless: Your travel documents should remain on your person at all times on travel days. We’ve all done dumb things at one time or another. But let’s be careful about trying to pass the buck.

    As another poster mentioned, these are dangerous times we live in and the safety & protection of all passengers is important. The public would be out with pitchforks if they learned that cruise lines are letting people board without verifying passports.

  • Jayne Bailey Holland

    I don’t think NCL is at fault at all. BUT when we checked in for our cruise a few months ago in Brooklyn the baggage handlers insisted we give them our small roll aboard bag. We always keep pajamas, medication together, and don’t let it out of our sight. Twice the baggage guys tried to take it right out of my hands. It almost felt like they were trying to steal the bag from us. We argued, and kept the bag with us.

  • Helene Apper

    The cruise lines reiterate over and over what you need in your hand to board. I also always tell my clients to email themselves a copy of their passport so if they run into this sort of thing, they have some sort of proof. Obviously the Knights didn’t read all the cautions the cruiseline gives you. Nope – this falls completely on their own stupidity (sorry – but again another reason for travel insurance and travel agents).

  • Alan Gore

    This story points to screwed-up baggage handling by the cruise line. If the bags are properly labeled for delivery to the passenger’s cabin, there should be no problem being able to find a specified bag in the time indicated.

    But the story didn’t say whether the carryon was checked on arrival at the dock or earlier in some sort of check-through arrangement with the airline, as part of an all-inclusive booking? Or was it one of those times when a shuttle driver grabs it at the curb when the passenger’s back is turned?

  • William_Leeper

    I can see your point, the cruise line kept thousands of dollars of theirs and they received nothing in return. The least NCL could do was to ship them their luggage for free.

  • Annie M

    Have you ever cruised? Bags aren’t usually delivered until well after the ship has sailed.

  • Annie M

    Have you ever cruised? There are thousands of bags loaded onto huge cribs that are put into the ship. It is not a simple task to find out which crib the bag could be on. There is no way NCL screwed it up. Most baggage isn’t delivered to cabins until after the ship is underway. That’s why the first night of a cruise there are no dress codes for the dining rooms – your luggage may not get to your room in time for dinner.

  • sirwired

    Well they did receive something in return; they had an empty cabin sailing off into the proverbial sunset without them in it. It’s not as if NCL saved any money because they weren’t able to board. (They can’t exactly let the staff go home early because there’s one less cabin to take care of.)

  • sirwired

    This is not “screwed-up baggage handling”; it’s pretty common for bags to not get sent to individual cabins until after departure (as in, after the staff have completed their pre-departure tasks.) Prior to individual cabin delivery, the bags are just in huge piles in back hallways, some sorted by deck, others in whatever open space is available below, all depending on if the Port Authority did any sorting at all (the lines don’t even touch the bags until they are on the ship.)

    The lines specifically warn you about this in the information packet everybody gets.

  • scoosdad

    I can almost imagine a scenario where their bags were delivered to their now-empty cabin, and sat there for much of the entire cruise.

  • John R. Moyer

    Why couldn’t the cruise line have allowed them to board and confine them to the ship unless they were able to produce their passports? Also, didn’t they say they had recently cruised with NCL? I know, maybe there are regulations that would not permit this. Common sense has no place in the cruise business!

  • Nathan Witt

    How does the NCL figure out which bags belong to which passengers once everyone’s aboard? There must be some kind of tracking system in place, and while it’s completely possible that NCL simply couldn’t locate the bag within three hours and felt justified in requesting payment for the return of the luggage, it feels a little bit like an opportunity for “revenue enhancement.” I can’t tell whether NCL also kept their cruise fare (although that seems to be the general practice at this point), and I’m sure insurance wouldn’t cover this, since it was preventable. It really irks me that we’re to a place where a simple mistake costs a family thousands of dollars, and everyone’s consensus is pretty much, “It’s their fault and they deserve it,” while the fact that NCL failed to locate a bag that was in their possession is completely given a pass.

  • Alan Gore

    Our cruising experience has been on small ships where yes, the bags were at the cabins promptly, and not departing from major ports like Ft Lauderdale or San Diego.

    The megaships have a lot more passengers, but don’t they have corresponding high-tech baggage handing systems?

  • taxed2themax

    I don’t see NCL as having anything to answer for here, to include the fee to return the bags back to the passenger. As I see it, they (NCL) should be praised for at least making an attempt to find the bags that contained the passports – that’s not something they needed to do nor had an obligation to do. and yes, in my book, when someone goes beyond what they are required to do, I say “thanks” and do so with sincerity. Sure, it would have been nice if they were found, but that just didn’t happen and I cannot escape the fact that the problem started with the passenger and not NCL.
    Is the fee salt in the wound? Perhaps, but again, I don’t see this as wrong in any way, shape or form. NCL made an attempt to fix a customer-originated problem, it couldn’t be fixed, the passenger didn’t have the documents in hand as required (assuming this is properly disclosed) and as a direct result weren’t boarded.
    I’m much more empathetic to cases where I can see a clear case of the business owning part of the original problem, but that’s not what I see here.

  • KanExplore

    Can’t agree with the headline. It is entirely their fault, not NCL’s. Certainly NCL could and maybe should consider a goodwill gesture, but I don’t see what a reasonable person could expect them to have done differently in this case.

  • Gary Moll

    No, no, no! NCL is NOT partially to blame. The Knights packed their passports and NCL is NOT manned to spend three hours searching for someone’s bag. Unfortunate, but responsibility falls on the passenger.
    Take personal responsibility for your own goof-ups!

  • Joe_D_Messina

    “They should have been able to get the bags back in that amount of time”
    Maybe, maybe not. But from a logistical standpoint, dropping everything to find these people’s bags could cause serious delays for the passengers who actually had their acts together. And they’re the ones the cruise line needs to be thinking of first. If I were the cruise line my policy would be “We’re glad to try and help you fix your problem but only if we can do so without delaying or inconveniencing the other passengers.”

    Also, one can only imagine how long boarding would take if this was to be the norm since one exception quickly becomes two, which becomes five, etc. At some point the individual absolutely needs to be on the hook for their mistakes or the whole process turns into a nightmare for everybody.

  • cscasi

    Probably because her was flying inside the USA and had a drivers license that met the Real ID Act.

  • AJPeabody

    The fault, dear Tyrone, lies not in the Spirit, but in yourself. Voted no. (Apology to Wm. S.)

  • LonnieC

    Stupid mistake. Totally incompetent crew/staff. Far more their fault than his. Advocate. Good luck.

  • Pegtoo

    Hopefully the bags weren’t left in the hall all week!!!!

  • Steve Parvin

    Lindabator, would really love to speak with you regarding booking a cruise! I’m just not sure how to get in contact., hope to hear from you!

  • judyserienagy

    Of course there was no way to find their luggage that day, I’m always astonished that my bag shows up in my stateroom, but that’s a well-oiled process. Pretty difficult to do it backwards, and I’m sure there was nobody to do the search. I have scanned copies of our passports on my laptop which would never get checked, no matter how spaced out I was. I wonder if they would have been acceptable, knowing the real thing was in my suitcase and I could produce it before dinner?

  • judyserienagy

    I guess they should consider themselves lucky that they were still in the U.S. What if they were in Roma and couldn’t fly home until the ship came back with their passports? Not that I’d have a problem spending 10 days in Italy, but finances could possibly be a factor.

  • sirwired

    The ship can’t leave until it’s confirmed that the passengers have the correct travel documentation.
    – The countries the ship is sailing to need to be assured of an accurate manifest, and that includes proof of citizenship.
    – The line needs to know that the passengers are still US citizens. (While unlikely, they could have renounced their citizenship since the last time they sailed.) A driver’s license, no matter how secure, has never been considered proof of US Citizenship.

    What do you propose the ship should have done if they had sailed with the couple on-board and it was discovered the passports had been lost (maybe left at home)?

    And have you ever been on a cruise? It is very common for lines not to deliver bags to staterooms until a couple hours after sailing. (They warn you about this in the checklist you get as part of your boarding pass.) Prior to delivery, at BEST, the bags are sorted by “wing” of the ship (deck, port/starboard, fore/aft)… depending on embarkation port, they may not even be that organized. (Depends on the local port authority, not line.)

  • sirwired

    No. They don’t have “high tech baggage handling systems”. There’s no room on the ship for such a thing, and whatever sorting takes place at the embarkation port is up to the local port authority.

    At best, the bags are sorted by deck, fore/aft, port/starboard (the stewards take care of sending to individual cabins.) So that might narrow it down to a couple hundred bags or so (and the stewards have lots of work to do on turnaround day, like, for instance, greeting new passengers, who otherwise might complain to Chris about how scarce service was when they boarded the ship.)

    At worst, all the sorting has to take place on the ship (if the port authority doesn’t do any), and then a specific bag is pretty much completely unfindable prior to departure.

  • Alan Gore

    Thanks for reminding me why we would never want to do that kind of cruising. Sounds more like containership handling for people, but without the high-tech efficiency of today’s cargo operations.

  • LonnieC

    I stand humbled and wiser….

  • Bill___A

    Point taken. I missed that part. Thank you.

  • Bill___A

    I said “should have” not that they do. I should have been more clear, I meant in an ideal world. Anyway, the passengers messed up not the cruise line.

  • sirwired

    Different strokes for different folks. Some people like living in the country, some like living in the city. Some folks prefer working for Mom ‘n Pop, others prefer a Big Company.

    Economics also enter into it; on the whole, the large ships have MUCH lower fares than small ships.

  • sofar

    This is EXACTLY what I think happened.

    In my cruising experience, I’ve found that, as soon as the taxi drops us off at the dock, baggage handlers rush us, slap claim tags on all our bags and rush off with them. I think they’re told by the cruise lines to get the bags on the ship as fast as possible and to take ALL bags so that there’s less clutter on the dock/fewer people juggling bags while waiting in line.

    Once the handler even said, “Ma’am, let me take your back pack,” and I was so flustered I handed it to him before thinking, “Wait…my wallet and passport are in there!” and hustled after him to get it back.

  • Mel65

    Oy vey.

  • sirwired

    Having presented a passport at one time is no substitute for having a current passport. You could no longer be a citizen of that particular country any more for any number of reasons.

    What if the passports had never shown up? At BEST, they would have been confined to the ship for the entire cruise. (No destination country is going to let passengers ashore where the cruise line cannot reasonably assure the country of their citizenship.)

    And what about getting home? With current evidence of citizenship, how long would they have been held up once they got back? (If it was an airline, a passenger that shows up without proper documentation gets sent right back out of the country, and the airline is fined heavily for ever showing up with said passenger… I wonder if the same is true for cruise ships?)

  • flutiefan

    there are no “trackers” on bags. just colored tags. considering the thousands and thousands of bags that have to be sorted and delivered to staterooms, some of which don’t come until the evening, there is simply no reasonable way for these people to have gotten their bags back. and it’s insane for anyone to think so.

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