Maybe you’ve chosen to fly on the day of your cruise and things went off without a hitch. But for Tom Watson and his wife, that’s a gamble they lost. A series of fiascos led Watson to arrive at the cruise terminal without a passport — for a journey to Cuba. With just minutes to look for the document, time ran out and they missed the cruise.
Watson places the blame on Viking for the missed cruise, and he wants a full refund. But who is really responsible here?
This tale highlights the danger of planning to arrive in your cruise’s departure city just hours before embarkation. Although it may seem convenient to fly on the day of your cruise, a slight delay can have devastating consequences. And the other lesson here? Never put your passport in a checked piece of luggage — or in a “carry-on” that you intend to let out of your sight at any time before boarding.
Planning to fly on the day of the cruise
Watson and his wife were looking for a unique way to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. And so, almost a year ago, they began planning.
Consulting with a travel advisor at Viking Cruises they decided to book a cruise to Cuba aboard the Viking Star. The eight-day Cultural Cuba adventure would be the perfect way to celebrate the momentous occasion.
The Viking travel consultant handled all the details of their trip — including the Watsons’ flights. She booked the couple to fly on the day of the cruise — landing less than two hours before the check-in cutoff.
That tight schedule should have set off an alarm bell for the Watsons. Unfortunately, it did not.
For the next eight months, the couple happily anticipated their journey.
Then came the day of departure. From there, almost everything that could go wrong did.
Cruise day! Uh-oh — a delayed flight
Late in the morning on the departure day of their cruise, the Watsons boarded a flight heading to Miami. Their nonstop American Airlines flight would land at 2:17 p.m — if it encountered no delay.
Unfortunately, it did.
It was then that the couple began to question the wisdom of flying on the same day as the cruise.
The Viking Star was set to sail at 6 p.m. That meant that the cutoff for check-in was 4 p.m. The Watsons and their cruise consultant had left very little room for even the slightest delay.
“Our flight landed, I think around 3:50 p.m.,” Watson’s wife recalled. “A Viking representative pulled our luggage off the carousel and then tagged all four pieces — including our carry-ons.”
Watson went on to describe an anxiety-provoking race to get to the Miami cruise terminal in time for check-in. Under normal traffic conditions, the travel time from the Miami airport to the cruise terminal should be less than a half hour. That was the good news.
But there was bad news on the way — and plenty of it.
Keep your passport with you at all times on the way to the cruise ship
There are multiple piers at the Miami cruise terminal. The Viking representatives transported the Watsons to Pier B where the Viking Star awaited them. They were relieved that, despite the flight delay, they had made it in time.
However, they did not see their luggage. A separate vehicle had taken the bags to the pier. A Viking representative told the couple that their bags might be at pier C — and the employees began a search.
It was then that Watson had a terrible realization. His passport was in his “carry-on” bag — but he had allowed the Viking baggage handlers to tag and take it. Now with just minutes before the cruise closed for boarding, Watson realized he didn’t have his passport.
Hoping to be able to board and sort out the luggage problems later, the Watsons approached the check-in.
“No one would let me board because I didn’t have the passport,” Watson recalled.
That should have come to no surprise. At the time, a passport and visa were required for entry to Cuba. No passenger could be allowed aboard the ship without proper documentation.
The passport arrives — too late
Finally at 5:45 p.m. a baggage truck arrived at the pier with the missing luggage. For a brief moment, Watson and his wife thought they would still be able to climb aboard the ship. The Viking staff quickly squashed their hopes.
Viking/security said it was too late for boarding due to ‘manifest issues.’ This, even though, it was still approximately 10-15 minutes before the scheduled, published departure time.
The Department of Homeland Security requires all cruise lines to provide a final passenger manifest one hour before departure. And there is no wiggle room with this requirement. Unfortunately, for the couple, their missed cruise was a foregone conclusion as soon as the clock hit 5 p.m.
The Watsons anniversary celebration was off to a rough start.
A missed cruise, but an olive branch
Watson says that Viking representatives suggested that the couple spend the next two nights in Miami. They could still salvage their cruise by flying into Cuba on the third day of the journey.
We weren’t interested in flying alone to a small Cuban airport to catch up with the cruise. We had already lost two of our eight days.
And so, the next day, Watson asked the Viking team to book the couple a flight back home.
When the couple arrived back home, on a flight that cost them an additional $350, they were frustrated and disappointed. But the Watsons believed that the trip insurance policy that they had purchased for this cruise would cover all their expenses.
That turned out to be an incorrect assumption and their true predicament began to come into focus.
Trip Insurance will not cover this missed cruise
Rather quickly Watson received a rejection of his claim from TripMate. The insurer would not be covering the nearly $13,000 that the couple had spent on this missed cruise.
In its explanation letter, TripMate explains that putting your passport in a bag and checking it, isn’t a covered “named peril.”
The company similarly rejected the claim under the “travel delay” clause:
With neither Viking nor TripMate willing to entertain Watson’s reimbursement request, he then sent his plea for help to the Elliott Advocacy team.
We never recommend that you fly on the day of your cruise
When Watson’s request for help landed on my desk, I hoped we could help. His story was terrible. He and his wife had planned this cruise for the past year with the help of a cruise consultant. I could see that many things went wrong.
But the genesis of every problem that came after it was the fact that this couple agreed to fly on the day of the cruise.
When I reviewed the paper trail, I was surprised that a cruise consultant booked the couple with such a tiny window for error.
Recently our team has had many passengers contact us in anguish after a surprise missed cruise. They all have one thing in common: They booked itineraries to fly on the day of the cruise.
Similar stories of travelers who have missed their cruise after choosing to fly on the day of the cruise:
Flying to your departure city on the same day as your cruise is never a good idea. Even if it works — you just got lucky. Eventually, airline delays will likely catch up with you.
But the short airline delay was only part of the problem for the Watsons.
First I checked the schedule for their flight. According to FlightAware, their plane was only delayed 25 minutes. It landed at 2:45 p.m. Of course, without any delays their itinerary was already pushing the boundaries of travel-sensibility. That extra 25 minutes just sent things further into advocacy-success oblivion.
Who is responsible for the missing passport?
But when Watson handed over his bag, with his passport, to a Viking baggage handler at the airport, that closed the door to our ability for successful mediation.
Consumers must always know and possess their required documentation for travel. Every cruise line, airline and travel provider has this warning written into their terms and conditions. Viking is no different.
I explained to Watson why we would be unable to mediate his case successfully. He pointed out that he was doing precisely what Viking advised by packing his passport in his carry on.
Following Viking’s pre-trip written directions, I packed [my passport] along with all my travel docs and medications in my carry on that I had kept in my possession on the DFW-MIA flight and intended to stay with me from MIA to the ship. However, upon arrival at MIA, Viking took our carry-ons and two pieces of checked luggage and misplaced them.
The problem here, of course, is that as soon as Watson handed over his bag to be checked by Viking, it was no longer a carry-on.
A carry-on is a piece of luggage that stays by your side from the moment you leave your house until you board the ship. That is the reason that Viking, and every other cruise line, provides this guidance. It was a mistake to hand over a “carry-on” to a baggage handler. And regrettably, this ended in the missed cruise.
Watson continues to ask Viking to review his case for consideration. I sent a request for comment over to their team and received no response. And so, it seems, that this case will have a decidedly unhappy ending, but we are sharing it to warn other travelers:
Please do not fly on the day of your cruise!