“I have argued my point to deaf ears”

celebrity cruiseIs the Jones Act a legitimate reason for a travel insurance company to deny a claim, or a convenient excuse? Depends on your perspective.

The Jones Act prohibits foreign-flagged cruise ships from transporting passengers between two ports within the United States. And if you’re Mariann Cutroneo, it’s a cop-out. She and a friend recently missed their Celebrity Alaska cruise because of a mechanical problem with a flight, and were unable to meet the ship at the next port. Her travel insurance company paid her $150 in compensation — just a fraction of the cost of her vacation.

If you’re Access America, it’s a legitimate reason to deny her claim. Not only is the Jones Act a strictly-enforced law, but there’s a provision in its insurance contract that addresses a Jones-related cancellation.

So who’s right?

Let’s begin with Cutroneo’s case.

I planned a trip to Alaska for last June. It was a cruise tour with Celebrity. My airfare was with Air Canada.

I arrived at the airport in plenty of time, was seated on the aircraft. As we taxied out, the airplane developed mechanical problems and had to be returned to the terminal. About an hour later, we were informed me that we had to leave the aircraft and the plane would be delayed until it could be serviced. That later changed to canceled.

We were schedule to board ship that afternoon in Vancouver. The airlines tried to accommodate us by redirecting us to another airline, but nothing would get us to Vancouver in time to board the ship. Air Canada offered to fly us to Seattle, provide lodging and fly us to the first port of call. However, due to the “Jones Act” we were not able to board in Ketchican, Alaska.

Before we go any further, I should probably tell you a little about the Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. It states that “no foreign vessel shall transport passengers between ports or places in the United States, under penalty of $200 for each passenger so transported or landed.” And since cruise ships are foreign-flagged vessels, that applies to Cutroneo’s case.

And now, back to her story …

Since I had insurance with Access American covering the entire trip, I called them immediately to notify them of the problem. They assured me they would take care of it, just write them with all the information including the letter about referencing the “Jones Act”. I did all that. They later informed me that the trip was not canceled but considered a trip delay and would only give us $150 in compensation.

I have argued my point to deaf ears. I have written letters, the last one dated August 19, asking them to reconsider. I have written to the Insurance Commissioner of New Jersey, asking for his help. I have heard from neither.

My travel agent also tried to no avail. Access American insists this is a trip delay, not cancellation and therefore we are not entitled to further compensation.

Can you help?

I asked Access America about Cutroneo’s situation.

We are very sorry that Ms. Cutroneo and Ms. Marshall were not able to embark on their cruise. We understand and sympathize with their frustration. We are glad that we could cover them under the Trip Delay benefit of their travel insurance policy. Unfortunately, we could not honor their claim for Trip Interruption because the reason they could not continue on their trip was that they were prohibited from doing so by a government regulation (the Jones Act) and “government prohibitions or regulations” is a specific exclusion within their travel insurance policy.

In other words, they canceled because of the Jones Act. Case closed.

Or is it?

Cutroneo contends that her trip was interrupted because of a mechanical delay on her inbound flight. Access America says the mechanical problem was just a delay.

The bigger issue, though, is the value of travel insurance. Travel agents and cruise lines rarely miss an opportunity to tout the benefits of reliable coverage. But Cutroneo just lost her entire cruise — a cruise she had taken the trouble to insure. A case like this really undermines your faith in travel insurance. At least it does for Cutroneo.

(Photo: Tomas Mascardo/Flickr Creative Commons)

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