Last week, New York State Senator Chuck Schumer proposed a Cruise Passenger Bill of Rights. Ostensibly, his proposal was in response to the flurry of problems Carnival Cruise Lines had with four ships in a two-month time span — and the often-confusing (sometimes misleading) national media coverage of those problems.
Leaving politics aside, I was a bit flummoxed by his proposal for two less ideological reasons.
First, Senator Schumer is basing this proposal on the Airline Bill of Rights he first proposed in 2009 and was passed into law in 2011. But legally, the airline and cruise industries are regulated quite differently. I readily admit I am not Cruise Critic’s foremost expert on maritime law, but I do know that cruise ships are under the legal auspices of the International Maritime Organization as well as the governments of the flag under which they sail. Right or wrong, that’s the law.
Airlines, on the other hand, are regulated by the governments of both the country in which they are based, and, when on land, by the country they are in.
“The Airline Passenger Bill of Rights applies to U.S. airlines and planes, U.S. and foreign flag, [that fly into] U.S. airports,” Dr. Andrew O. Coggins Jr., told Cruise Critic. Coggins is a professor of management at Pace University’s Lubin School of Business and specializes in cruise industry and travel and tourism management.
With cruise ships, he explained, once they’ve sailed beyond 200 miles from the U.S. coast, they are regulated by the law of the “high seas,” which is the I.M.O., and the laws of their flag country. How, then, could a U.S.-based bill of rights law apply to passengers once they were beyond 200 miles from the United States?
Coggins suggested that instead of a U.S. law being enacted, the Cruise Lines International Association could develop such a bill of rights. It wouldn’t be legally binding but could be a requirement for CLIA membership.
Additionally, if you take out the bill or rights elements about ticket pricing, luggage protection and delays and just look at the “basic services” provisions, the airlines are only required to provide access to lavatories and water “in the extent of extended tarmac delays.” In other words, airlines must legally provide basic needs services only while the plane is on the ground. Yet Schumer’s proposal would try to apply to cruise ships when they are away from the port, which is the cruise equivalent of a tarmac.
Another reason I found myself scratching my head after reading the proposed bill of rights is that not all of the inclusions made sense to me.
For instance, at least one provision — the right to disembark a docked ship if basic provisions aren’t available — seemed to be a direct response to widespread — but inaccurate — reports regarding the Carnival Dream, which experienced a malfunction of its backup generator while docked in St. Maarten. As a precaution, Carnival canceled the remainder of its itinerary and arranged to fly passengers back home.
The first reports of the incident claimed Carnival passengers were stuck on the ship and weren’t allowed to disembark. In reality, passengers were allowed off the ship once it was clear the ship would not be able to leave and the St. Maarten authorities again opened the terminal to disembarking passengers. Yes, this did mean passengers were stuck on the ship during the two-hour period the toilet system was down. But that outage occurred the evening the ship was set to sail. Of course no one was allowed off; the ship could have departed at any moment.
Or take, for instance, the provision that passengers have a right to full-time, onboard professional medical attention in the event of a major health crisis. I don’t know what cruise lines or ships Senator Schumer has sailed on, but every ship I’ve ever been on has had a fully staffed infirmary with medical professionals.
Here’s another one that doesn’t make sense — the right to real-time information updates regarding adjustments in the travel plans of the ship in the event of mechanical failure or emergency. Seems to me cruise lines already do this as well, but it might take the cruise line an hour or longer to actually know what those changes are. Crew on Carnival Dream did tell passengers the ship was being delayed as soon as they knew a problem had occurred, but they didn’t know what the result was going to be until hours later. How could they have told passengers any sooner?
Schumer’s reaction to the news of problems plaguing Carnival’s fleet is understandable; we all watched as Triumph was tugged home and heard horror stories of deplorable conditions onboard. While at their core, the provisions outlined by Senator Schumer are well-intentioned — who wouldn’t want (or expect) a properly trained crew or the right to backup power — the Cruise Bill of Rights would be nearly impossible to regulate under U.S. law on what is essentially foreign land.
What do you think of Schumer’s proposal? Leave your thoughts below.
See what Cruise Critic members have to say about Senator Schumer’s proposal.
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