“Viking has told us one lie after another”

After the terrorist attacks in Brussels and Istanbul, Melissa Chapman thinks she deserves a refund for her summer river cruise. But as is the case with many of the problems that come our way on this site, timing is everything.

Chapman and her mother are scheduled to take a Seine river cruise next month, and like a lot of visitors, they’ve been spooked by the terrorist attacks and warnings that followed.

“There’s been a travel alert and the new terror suspect arrested just eight miles from where we board in Paris,” she says.

This problem cruise and non-resolution is a lesson to all of us at a time when some of our favorite tourist destinations are threatened by terror. It’s a reminder to know the risks before you press the “book” button, and to be prepared to live with the consequences.

Chapman’s mother spent $12,000 for what she believed would be a “risk free” trip (Viking’s words). In order to cancel, they’ll have to pay a 50 percent cancellation penalty.

But why cancel?

She says Viking misrepresented its product, and especially the security precautions it was taking. They claimed her sailing would be “completely safe,” while taking no visible precautions after the terror alerts.

“They have added no security, have no bag screening, no armed guards, travel in brightly marked buses with hundreds to tourist locations, all which have been advised against,” she says. “My mother is almost 80 and had saved for this cruise but does not feel safe.”

She adds, “Viking has told us one lie after another.”

One lie after another? Strong accusation.

Viking, like a lot of tour operators in Europe, are not about to advertise the terrorism problem. While I might agree that they’re downplaying the danger, I haven’t seen any evidence yet that they’ve distorted any facts.

The only mention of terrorism in Viking’s cruise contract favors the company. Specifically, it lets Viking off the hook for any threat of an act of terror:

ACTS OF GOD, STRIKE, OR OTHER
Neither Viking nor the Carrier or owners of the vessels identified herein shall be liable for delay or inability to perform any condition herein or any part thereof caused by or arising out of strikes, lockout or labor difficulties or shortages whether or not the Carrier is party thereto, or explosion, fire, collision, standing or foundering of the vessel or breakdown or failure of or damage to the vessel or its hull or machinery or fittings howsoever and wheresoever any or the same may arise or be caused, or civil commotion, riot, insurrection, war, government restraint, requisitioning of the vessel, political disturbance, acts or threats of terrorism, inability to secure or failure of supplies including fuel, acts of God, or other circumstances beyond their control.

But perhaps Chapman’s mother has been given assurances by phone that everything would be “fine” in Paris, when in fact, news reports suggest otherwise. And to her, that seems like lying. Understood.

Viking’s refund policy is clearly articulated on its site, and of course she could have also taken out a travel insurance policy, which might have covered a terrorism event near her destination.

This refund request is a timing issue. If she made her reservations before the Paris attacks, then she might have a case. After all, that incident changed people’s attitudes about visiting Paris, and indeed, Europe. But Chapman’s reservation was made after the attack. That, combined with a second attack in Brussels means that a State Department warning shouldn’t come as a surprise. Nor should Viking’s reaction to it be a shocker.

Chapman wants a full refund. “I tried for vouchers, but at this point after being lied to so many times I just don’t trust the company,” she says. “My mother would probably be happy with vouchers though and it is her money.”

I’d advise them to go with the vouchers. It’s difficult to argue for a full refund when you already know – or should know — that terrorism could happen somewhere along the route. That’s important for all of us to remember as the busy summer travel season gets underway. We know the risks before we go out there. Can we live with them?

Should companies refund money for canceled travel plans to Europe?

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