“I lost several thousand dollars based on advice given by a cruise line”

If Jothi Kesavan’s problem looks familiar, that’s because it should be. No sooner do I say the word “cruise” these days than readers of this blog think, “denied boarding.”

I’m not going to disappoint you.

Here’s what happened to Kesavan: After his wife became seriously ill last summer, his in-laws flew in to help the family.

“We had decided to take the cruise to Alaska to cheer her up and to entertain her parents,” he says.

And that’s when the trouble started.

He recalls,

I called Princess Cruises to get price quote from a sales agent.

During the course of our conversation, I had asked if my in-laws would require visas. (They already had visas to visit US). [They said no.]

Later, I went with a local travel agent for purchasing the cruise ticket, because she was able to get a better price. Even with her, I specifically mentioned to her that our in-laws have Indian passport and if it would need any type of visa.

She called Princess Cruises and confirmed to me that they would not need a visa.

Ah, if only!

A few days before the cruise, a friend mentioned Kesevan’s in-laws might need a visa, since the ship makes a stop in a Canadian port.

Immediately, I went to the travel agent in person. She called the cruise company sales department.

Once again, those agents confirmed that no need for the visas.

Just to be sure, we called the cruise company customer service. The folks there categorically stated that they will not allow my in-laws to board unless they have Canadian visa.

The Kesavans couldn’t get Canadian visas in time for their cruise, so their agent suggested they cancel the trip and “try” to get a refund. Princess offered to refund the taxes — about $400 — but kept $5,500 of his cruise fare.

“I lost several thousand dollars based on advice given by a cruise line,” he says. “Could you help me?”

My first thought in considering this case is, what took him so long? The cruise happened last summer, and he’s contacting me in early 2012?

Kesavan says there’s a reason for that. “My wife was quite ill, so I did not have energy or motivation to pursue this with Princess Cruises,” he told me.

Alright. Next question: Did he get any assurances about the visas in writing?

No, both the agent and the Princess reps delivered these assurances by phone. So there’s no proof this information was conveyed to him as he remembers it.

This problem is so common that I have a term for the decision families are faced with when they have a visa problem: port separation anxiety. It can happen to anyone, even Canadians, or people who were born in Canada.

I usually dismiss these cases, not because I don’t want to help, but because the answer is always the same: having the right visas is entirely your responsibility.

Quoting the Princess passage contract:

It is the Passenger’s sole responsibility to obtain and have available when necessary the appropriate valid travel documents. All Passengers are advised to check with their travel agent or the appropriate government authority to determine the necessary documents. You will be refused boarding or disembarked without liability for refund, payment, compensation, or credit of any kind if You do not have proper documentation, and You will be subject to any fine or other costs incurred by Carrier which result from improper documentation or noncompliance with applicable regulations, which amount may be charged to Your stateroom account and/or credit card.

Why, then, are Princess agents offering any kind of assurances that someone does — or doesn’t — require a visa? If the final word is an “appropriate government authority” shouldn’t they always defer to the government on these questions?

To what extent is Princess liable for giving Kesavan misleading, and perhaps even false, information? Should it offer him a refund? And should I try to get a refund for him?

Update (10:45 p.m.): And now, the final word …

Um, actually, maybe not that close a vote. Looks like I made the right call.

(Photo: blmiers2/Flickr)

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