Their luggage went missing, but does anyone know why?

By all accounts, Maddy and Phil Handler liked their October cruise on the Riviera, one of the new mid-size ships in Oceania’s fleet. There was just the matter of the Handler’s luggage — and reams of correspondence between the couple and a vice president at the cruise line, bickering about what happened to it.

The cruise line claims another passenger inadvertently took the Handler’s suitcase and that it tried to help them retrieve it. But these passengers are unhappy with the way in which their claim has been handled, and they want answers about their missing luggage. They want me to step in and get a clear explanation from Oceania.

In reading the correspondence, I’m not sure if how much clearer Oceania can be — but maybe you can tell me what’s missing.

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The loss appears to have happened on Nov. 3, when they left the Riviera to return home. During debarkation, passengers leave their checked luggage in front of the cabin door. A porter then moves the luggage to the terminal, where it’s claimed. The couple left around 5 a.m., only to discover one of their bags had gone missing between the hallway and terminal.

Eventually, the luggage was found and sent back to the Handlers.

Let me just jump in here and say that here’s where traveling light is a real plus. If you can manage to limit your luggage to a carry-on, you can avoid not only the risk of entrusting your luggage to a porter, but you’ll also avoid the steep fees for checking luggage on an airline.

And on common-sense level, why would anyone leave their personal belonging out in the hallway overnight? Makes no sense.

“The issue is really, does the cruise line have responsibility for luggage at the port since we are told to put out our luggage by the cruise line,” says Maddy Handler. “And if lost, should not there be a report and one which the passenger has a right to get?”

The answer is: none — and no.

First, let’s have a look at Oceania’s ticket contract (PDF), the legal agreement between the passengers and the cruise line. Check out section 10.

[I]n no event shall We be liable to You with respect to any occurrence prior to embarkation or after disembarkation from the Ship. In no event shall We be liable to You with respect to any occurrence taking place other than on the Ship or launches, tender or other craft owned or operated by Us, or with respect to any baggage, when the same is in Our custody at any shore side installation.

In other words, Oceania washes its hands of liability after you leave your luggage at the door.

The answer to the Handlers’ second question came directly from an executive vice president at the cruise line. No, unlike airlines, Oceania doesn’t keep records of lost or misplaced luggage.

He adds,

Stuff like this happens from time to time. It happens at airports, at hotels and certainly at cruise lines … It was a simple mistake by one of our guests who took the wrong bag and returned it. I am sorry it happened with your bag but it was unavoidable.

At this point there is nothing further we can do to alleviate your concerns and thus we consider this matter closed.

Ah, the ol’ “we consider this matter closed” — another way of saying, “go away.”

I’ve reviewed the correspondence between both parties several times, but haven’t been privy to their phone conversations. But based on what I see, I don’t know if Oceania can give the Handlers more information. The information simply doesn’t exist.

But it should. I find it troubling that a cruise line isn’t legally responsible for your checked luggage and that records of lost bags aren’t kept. Oceania could have quickly settled this by offering the Handlers a cruise credit and an apology, but instead, its responses come off as defensive and dismissive.

Should I mediate Maddy and Phil Handler's case with Oceania?

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Update: I just received a note from the Handlers, who note that their luggage was removed from the port area, not from in front of their cabin. They also believe the cruise contract holds Oceania responsible. And they’ve clarified their request for compensation.

We would want our expenditure reimbursement for the call we made to the ship ($20) to locate the bag and for the few items of clothing we had to buy ($70) for the work week our clothing was missing, both which were turned down by cruise insurance. That is another gray area — coverage for lost luggage once [a] cruise is over. Coverage just extends to the day you get home and baggage loss needs 24 hrs until they pay out. A catch-22.