Is this enough compensation? A do-over for being denied boarding on my cruise

Veda Robinson and Jackie Smartt were looking forward to their Carnival cruise last December. But they never made it on board. Smartt had packed the wrong ID, and the cruise line left her standing at the dock.

They also left Robinson standing next to her.

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Actually, it was a little more dramatic: Robinson says she was told she wasn’t going anywhere without Smartt, and then the pair was escorted from the building by security, even though they made no effort to resist.

In other words, Carnival denied Robinson boarding, even though it had no reason to.

Robinson and Smartt had to buy a last-minute airline ticket back to Memphis. Robinson contacted Carnival and asked for a full refund of her ticket, since she feels she should have been able to take the cruise. After all, the cabin had been paid for, and she had the right ID.

In response, Carnival offered her a do-over cruise, based on availability, in February.

Why not a full refund?

“Carnival will not reimburse me for being denied boarding, even though I had documentation, because they recently advised me that the personnel at the pier asked me, “Do you want to board?” and documented on my incident report, that I said no,” she says.

That’s untrue, she says.

I’ve reviewed the correspondence between Robinson and Carnival, and that seems to be the cruise line’s final answer — either take a last-minute cruise this month or lose everything.

The cruise line’s position is polite but firm:

We have conducted a thorough review of all the documentation in your file and have spoken to the Guest Logistics team who was present on the day of sailing. Although Ms. Smartt was not able to travel because she lacked a WHTI compliant document, we have found no indication that you were improperly denied boarding since you were in possession of the required travel documents.

While we regret your disappointment, we are unable to extend any compensation in this regard.

This case raises a few question. First, where is Robinson’s travel agent in all of this? She booked the cruise through a AAA-affiliated agency in Memphis, which should have advised her and her friend of the ID requirements. And not only that, but the agent should have also gone to bat for her when she was denied boarding.

Robinson, in a follow-up email after this story was posted, says her agent did advise them with what she thought were the correct documentation requirements.

Our travel agent did inform Jackie to bring a certified copy of her birth certificate or passport. They were unaware the cruise did not take certified hospital birth certificates, until I informed them the day of the cruise, and Jackie did not inform the travel agent that she only had a certified hospital birth certificate. Our travel agent was definitely upset with the way Carnival treated us.

Second, while I can understand why Carnival might assume Robinson didn’t want to cruise without her friend, there must have been some kind of documentation on the circumstances of her denied boarding. Why wouldn’t Carnival give her a piece of paper that says, “You were denied boarding, and here’s why”?

It seems strange that she would be escorted through the terminal without any paperwork changing hands.

Carnival’s ticket contract — the legal agreement between her and the cruise line — doesn’t mention the possibility of being denied boarding because your cabin-mate can’t take the cruise. Maybe I’m missing something in the dense legal document.

I understand why Carnival might take this position. Refunding her cruise would cost it real money, while offering space on a future sailing wouldn’t, from a revenue point of view.

It’s a better business decision. But is it the right customer-service decision?

So it comes down to Robinson’s word against Carnival’s. The cruise line claims she opted not to take the cruise; she says she wasn’t given a choice. It says she voluntarily left the terminal; she says she was escorted by security officers.

Is the do-over enough, or should Carnival refund her entire cruise?

Wow, quite the response to this one!

If I had it to do over, I probably would have tried to distill this case more succinctly, to avoid some of the confusion when I initially posted this question. These cases can turn a little fuzzy, sometimes.

Thanks to my readers for pointing out some of the inconsistencies and prompting me to clarify some the circumstances. You’ve all made this a better story.

Update: (3:30 p.m.) I’ve heard back from Robinson with an update. She says her AAA agency did indeed contact Carnival on her behalf “and got no response,” so the agency recently refunded her cruise. It isn’t entirely clear if the refund happened before or after her latest contact on Feb. 11, when I asked for and received her permission to write about this case.

“My purpose was that I did not want this to happen to others, because other guests at the pier had the same problem and were having their birth certificate faxed to Carnival,” she says, adding, “Please remove the article.”