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.

74 thoughts on “Their luggage went missing, but does anyone know why?

  1. They got their bag so what do they want? I just returned from a cruise and I agree that leaving your luggage outside your door is uncomfortable. We paid extra for our bags to be checked all the way home to SFO and was pleasantly surprised to find our bags first to show up at the carousel and we flew coach. If I wasn’t flying, I wouldn’t leave my bags outside and take them off the ship with me.

  2. they got their bag back.

    Was it missing some items? I fail to see that the big deal is.

    If they got an explanation, what would they do with it?

    I mean really, if someone told me “your bag went to 5 different countries, and 2 parallel dimensions, but we found it! Want to read about it?” I would just say “thanks, but no. I’m heading home”

    1. Actually I would like to hear that story! I’d be jealous of the trip I did not go on! 😉
      Maybe it is best to have the loudest, ugliest bag so no one else wants to touch it! I have a medium sized brightly colored duffle bag – no wheels – no one wants it because it is klutzy to move. And my tag has a very big dog on it, he has been looking out for my bag very successfully! I am sure it is just voodoo but I don’t question what works.

  3. I appreciate that ‘for a time’ they did not have their suitcase – but where there items missing? I think they are rather lucky!

  4. I second the notion that you’d have to be very, VERY special to be able to cruise using only carry-on. In fact, cruisers probably take MORE luggage than land-based vacationers.

    The leaving your bags out thing is unique to cruises in that the service acts like a hotel bellboy. Usually, at disembarkation, a LOT of people are trying to get off at the same time meaning you are squeezed into tight corridors / elevators. If everyone had to schlep their luggage, it’d be overwhelming. Lots of cruise passengers are also older, meaning they might not physically be able to handle baggage a long distance. (You often are asked to wait in common areas as well, without a lot of room for luggage – like in the theater.) That said, I always cart off my own luggage which tends to be a small suitcase. The thought of leaving it out all night is disconcerting. But I do see why lots of people would think they don’t really have a choice.

  5. Honestly, what’s there to mediate? I don’t see where anything was missing or the Handler’s had to spend any money because the bag was missed placed. The cruise line already told them it was accidentally picked up by another passenger so even if there was a report to read, all its going to say is that another passenger picked it up.The cruise line isn’t going to tell them who it was.
    Please enlighten me. Am I missing something?

  6. To those that say they can’t fit in a carry-on. It’s actually no trouble at all if you plan properly. You can even stay out of the laundromat if needed… Simply go to an quality outdoor-equipment store, like REI, and head to the clothing section. There you will find a whole selection of drip-dry travel clothes. Stock up on two sets of socks, underwear, shirts, and shorts/pants, and supplement it with a bathing suit, blazer, dress shirt, and tie (or a simple, compact dress for women), and you are good for pretty much any occasion.

    1. That’s how my husband and I can do and have done 2 weeks in Europe, but only if my husband wears the blazer and puts *his* dress shoes into *my* bag. We’ve only done the one cruise, but had to use a larger bag for the formal wear. The simple, compact dress thing works fine for church and going out to eat, but not as a substitute for formal wear. Of course, if I could wear the skimpy, clingy ankle-length formal dresses that *could* fit in a carry-on without damage to the fabric, that’d be a different story. 🙂

      1. Yes, and you are in a similar pickle if you are a traveling tuba player or if you plan to play full-contact football on the beach…

        I clearly was not referring to people with special equipment needs.

        1. Well, I personally do not feel that my comment warranted this snark, but…whatever. As for scuba being ‘special needs’, I beg to differ. Scuba diving is a very common vacation activity (as opposed to tuba-playing or full-contact football), and I am certainly not the only diver who avoids rental gear. There are many other common vacation activities that require bringing stuff bigger than can fit in a carry-on…golf comes to mind.

          My sole point is that I feel that expecting people to vacation with nothing more than a carry-on is unreasonable. Those of you who can do it, how nice for you. But many of us can’t…and it doesn’t mean we’re ‘special needs’. It means we plan on doing more on our vacation than eating and drinking, and wearing more than the same clothes day in and day out. Oh, and some of us also like to bring back gifts, so once again there goes the carry-on idea.

          I feel too many posts in here are castigating those of us who can’t travel with carry-ons. Wanting to bring more than two changes of clothes on vacation is not a crime!

  7. I must be missing something. Is there a part of the story that was removed? The luggage was missing and then it was returned. I am going to assume that nothing was missing. Why is this even a story?

  8. I think the point here is not that they got their bags back, but the fact that the cruise line has no policies to handle lost bags and claims they have no responsibility.

    I say you should contact the cruise line and see why they have no policies on lost baggage. They tell their guests that they will handle getting your bag to the shore, airline, whatever…..but when something goes wrong, they are not responsible?

    Sorry, but that doesn’t wash with me.

  9. Chris, asking why the passengers would leave their luggage outside the door at all is a bit odd on your part. On all the hundreds of cruises I’ve ever been on, the cruise line tells you that if you feel that your luggage is going to impede to de-barkation of yourself, or others, you are kindly asked to leave your luggage outside the cabin and allow the stewards to collect it do that you can pick it up after you dembark. There are times when after a long cruise and a good bit of stuff buying I *could* schlep my own luggage off, but I know I would be creating a headache for other passengers trying to de-embark with me, and so as a courtesy to others and the people aboard ship trying to have a smooth de-embarkation I’ll let the stewards take care of it, as suggested by the pursers office and the cruise line. If the cruise line is going to encourage people in any official capacity to leave them in charge of your property,Nathan from the point they pick it up at your door until you grab it at the pier , they have to assume some responsibility . The cruise lines force you to waive your right to almost everything in your passenger agreement , but if they are not going to take responsibility than when they announce the luggage services on the last night, they should say that leaving it outside and having the line bring it to the pier is an option, but they cannot be held responsible for your luggage during this process. However if they did this, I expect that de-embarkation would take three to four times the length of time it does now. That’s up to them though. They can’t have it both ways. Even the darned airlines assume some responsibility financially for either a delay or loss of your luggage. It’s a sad time when the service of. Cruise line falls behind that of the airlines.

    1. I was thinking EXACTLY the same thing! The answer to “why would a passenger leave his bags outside his door?” is, “the cruise-ship staff INSISTED that this is what we MUST do.” So what are we supposed to do, pick a fight with them?
      It honestly never occurred to me that if anything ever happened to my bags, the cruise-line would claim they weren’t responsible for the loss! They can’t have it two ways–can they?
      (I guess that’s a rhetorical question…)

  10. Like most others, I don’t see why this is even a story – someone took the wrong luggage, realized the mistake and returned it, apparently intact. Like so many people these days, the Handlers appear to be just looking for a chance to take advantage of Oceania, who did what they promised to do – get your luggage from your room to the terminal. By a couple of his comments, Mr. Elliott has clearly never been on a cruise, but that doesn’t change the outcome of this.

  11. Nothing to see here folks. NO free cruises, NO discount vouchers. Just an apology.

    While it appears another pax picked up the luggage, does the cruise line really NOT have responsibility once you leave it out? If you read the terms, I might think that until the bag leaves the ship (disembarks) that they do have responsibility. So, if it was tossed overboard (it happens) or a porter rifled through it and took property, I have to think the cruise line is indeed responsible. But not the case here.

  12. How long was the luggage missing and did they suffer any economic damage from it being gone? The article doesn’t specify if the luggage was brought to the terminal in time to fly or was found and returned 5 days later. If it was the former, the cruise lines owes them nothing. If it was the later, the cruise line may owe them some compensation if they had to purchase any items to use in the interim while the luggage was gone.

    If a cruise line requires you to leave your bag out overnight then it does accept liability for that bag. Wouldn’t a better system be having passengers turn in bags to a central point during specified windows of time by berth? It would seem to be a safer system and less employee intensive for the cruise line.

    If the cruise line offers the bag service as an option, then it has a right to state that it is a “use at your own risk” policy.

  13. I’m with everybody who says there is nothing here to even talk about. (So, why am I talking?) They were lucky to get the bag back, that’s the end of the story. As for traveling with only carry-on bags on a cruise of more than a few days, and looking decent, it’s pretty hard to do. You KNOW when you put your bags out the night before that there is a slight risk of loss. Never had a problem in more than 40 cruises, but of course I keep all valuables with me.

    1. You should see the emails going back and forth between the Handlers and their travel agent this morning. Apparently, there is a lot to talk about.

      Also, I’ve been on lots of cruises, and have never put my luggage in the hallway. That’s just asking for trouble.

      1. Wow, do I ever pity their travel agent. They were communicating directly with the cruise line, so why does the TA need to be involved?

  14. Thank you Chris for revealing another scam, the cruise line’s “just put your baggage overnight in the hallway” fraud.

    They should title it, “abandon your luggage in the hallway for whomever wants it.”

    I never knew about this total disclaimer of liability, and now that I do I shall have easy-to-navigate roll-aboards for my next cruise. I can handle two rollers bags plus a computer bag with ease. If I plan on shopping, then outbound I put the smaller roller inside the larger. Going home I have one more bag to fill. Nothing will be abandoned in the hallway, no matter what the cruise line tells me. Thanks. No use mediating a clearly slight-of-hand scam.

    If the cruise line wants to be honest and avoid this fraud, it should outline in all printed and oral announcements about luggage, “In no event shall we be liable to you for any baggage when it’s in our custody at any shore-side installation.”

  15. I like the answer “stuff like this happens”. Particularly as this happened on the way OFF of the cruise. It’s not like anyone was forced to wear the same set of drawers for the entire trip.

  16. “And if lost, should not there be a report and one which the passenger has a right to get?”

    Is all of their correspondence that convoluted? If I were the cruise line’s representative, I would not appreciate having to decipher sentences before responding to them.

    1. They were at home and had to spend $70 for items to wear during the work week? Huh? Did they take all their clothing with them on the trip and it was all in that bag that went temporarily astray? I don’t get it.

  17. I have been in this situation. Getting off the Oasis of the Seas two years ago, one of our bags was missing. We found another that looked nearly identical that was left behind once most passengers had left the terminal. RCL took a report, which we got a copy of, and tried to contact the other passenger to have them come claim their bag and return ours. They did not get in touch with them in time for our luggage to catch up with us in time to take the flight home with us. However, it was delivered to us in Maryland 3 or 4 days later at RCL’s expense. I was more than satisfied with the response.

    Compare that to last year, when the same piece of luggage made it off the ship and all the way to the AirTran check-in at Miami airport. Even though AirTran had only one flight per day from Miami, which is the flight we were on, that piece of luggage never arrived, and never did. Filing the travel claim for the lost luggage and contents is nightmare you never want to have. You need receipts for everything valued at more than $100 (like suits and formal wear), and depreciation from the time of purchase is taken before reimbursement. I’m surprised they did not want pictures of everything in the suitcase. What is worse is that Travel Insurance did not cover any of the loss that was not covered by AirTran.

    I think I’m glad that piece of luggage is now gone. It was pretty unlucky!

  18. I don’t get the complaint. Was something taken from their bag? I don’t see where they have any damages. And it was on the way home, so I’m struggling to see how it could even have been a huge inconvenience for the bag to be missing for a while. What good would a report on their missing bag be at this point?

  19. If they got their luggage back then that should be it.

    However, on the larger topic of luggage – if the cruise line dictates the procedure, then they should be responsible for the luggage from the moment it leaves your hands to the moment it gets back. I can assure you that I would not be having people leave unattended luggage outside their rooms.

  20. On a two week cruise there are three FORMAL nights! No way can I pack three formal gowns, shoes and accessories along with all the different clothes needed on that length cruise in a carry-on bag. The carry-on carries my jewelry, electronics gear and medications and a change of clothes in case my suitcase goes missing. I will admit my husbands suitcase is smaller than mine but he wouldn’t be able to fit a tuxedo and dress shirt along with his other clothes in a carry-on. An, for those of you who say don’t bring formal clothes, that is all part of the cruise experience! There is nothing in the bags that we put out for debarkation that we could not do without. Would we like it no but thats the way it is done.

    1. There is no crime in traveling with a larger bag than a carryon and it usually is a male who thinks that all that is needed for any trip.

  21. Just one more reason (amongst many) to never take a cruise. The cruise line requires you to leave your luggage unattended all night long where everybody and his dog has access to it. Anything could be stolen. Anything could be placed inside your suitcase.

    The cruise line requires you to place your belongings in jeopardy and takes absolutely no responsibility to safeguard them. Unacceptable!

    The one and only time I ever took a cruise, we were made to leave the luggage outside in the hall all night. The next day at the airport, security asked us if we had ever left the luggage unattended.

    I was panic stricken. I said no, because I figured they would give us the third degree if I said yes. Then I was terrified that somehow something would be found in the luggage and I would be screwed because I said it was never left unattended.

    Fortunately, nothing happened, but with the insanity of TSA now, there is NO WAY I would ever place myself in that situation again.

    1. I usually stay up most of the night any way on a cruise so my luggage doesn’t go out until about 3 am….my carry on has my valuables – just like when I fly.

  22. They got their luggage back and they’re still complaining?
    Some people need to find something more productive to do with their time.
    The Handlers would be “some people.”

    1. I was worried – you hadn’t posted in a while. I missed your trademark snark. Not sure if commenting on your absence is a productive use of my time, though. 😉

      1. I’m baaaaaaaaaaaaaack 😀
        Yeah, things were just nuts for awhile. I don’t think I slept in my own timezone for a month. Eeesh.

  23. I see that Chris posted an update. Something that is important to point out is that baggage coverage with travel insurance usually only covers you on the start of your trip, not coming home.

  24. Just read the update. My thoughts on this case remain the same: they got their luggage back. The compensation request is ridiculous. They were HOME – are they trying to say that they have such a small wardrobe at home that they couldn’t survive without buying new stuff? Come ON!

    As for the phone call, I’m a little confused why it should have cost them…why weren’t they discussing this with corporate, and letting corporate contact the ship? Anyway, really…20 bucks? They’re making a big deal over 20 bucks?

    IMO, this is just a money grab, trying to get paid for what was really a minor inconvenience.

  25. Having done a lot of traveling in my life time I have made it a point to always have one small rollerbag with all my most important items. One set of clothes that can be washed by hand; all medications, etc., all valuables.

    On a cruise, my husband and I each have a rollerbag with essentials, and a large shoulder bag or backpack, with miscellaneous items that we keep with us at all times embarking and disembarking; and a large bag which we put outside the door for the porters to take.

    We mark all our bags very well, particularly since so many look alike.

    So far, the bags that have been misplaced have been while flying.

    We also have locks on all our bags to discourage someone from opening the bag quickly.

    Traveling as lightly as possible is the best way to go if one can.

    Actually, with hundreds of people on a ship or plane, and so much luggage, it is amazing that more items are not lost or stolen.

  26. what a pack of whingers. Are they from England ?
    Get a life.
    Not the cruise lines responsibility if someone else took your bag.
    Maybe get a can of pink paint & write all over your bags, something to the effect HANDS OFF or simply go to local Chinatown & buy large baggage tags which say something to same effect.

    1. Y’know, you make a good point…these types of situations can be avoided if you make an effort to personalize your luggage in a way that is very obvious.

      We all know that many bags look alike. But you can easily add something to your bag that makes it unmistakably yours, and unlikely to be grabbed accidentally by someone who thinks it’s theirs.

      The spray-paint thing is certainly one idea! Although I prefer something a little less, um, grafiti-ish. 😉 I tie wide, brightly-colored fabric strips on the handles so that I can spot my bag from a long distance away…and if someone happens to have a bag that looks like mine, they should be able to tell instantly that this one is NOT theirs.

  27. If the cruise line required them to put the luggage outside their room for delivery dockside, then the cruise line is responsible. Makes no difference where the bags went. They should reimburse the Handlers for their expenses. I believe putting the bags out is a common practice for pickup and delivery to customs, so the pax don’t have to shlep their own bags.

  28. With the update things get murkier. On the one hand, their requested expenses are modest enough. On the other, it’s not typical for companies to be responsible for bags in this situation to my knowledge. Are airlines responsible if someone picks the wrong bag up st baggage claim?

  29. With the update, this makes a more interesting story. Are the airlines responsible if your bag makes it to the final carousel but then is jacked by someone? Cruiselines should be in the same category.

  30. What I don’t get about what they want for compensation is the $70 for the clothing they needed to purchase for work for the week the luggage was missing.

    You mean to tell me that all of their work appropriate clothing was packed in that one piece of luggage that went missing? Or it was all their undergarments? I mean one good bra can get pretty spendy so if all of her bras were in that bag, I can see the $70 price tag but who the hell packs all of their bras?

    At this point, unless something is missing from the bag, they should be thankful it is back and just drop it. $20 for phone calls is not that much.

  31. Having never taken a cruise, I find it odd to simply leave your luggage unattended in the hallway. What happens at the airport when the airline representative asks if your luggage has been in your possession since you packed it? I know TSA is merely security theatre; but, wouldn’t all cruise passengers in this situation have to answer “no” to that question?

  32. The “leave your luggage outside the door” is not unique to just cruises. We’ve done European trips which included hotel nights. The package included all luggage handling. And they require you to leave your luggage outside your door at a certain time so that it can be collected and transported to the motorcoach.

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