Enter Princess, which today announced a new flight-booking program, called eZAir, designed to give cruise travelers more control over their flight arrangements. The best part -- especially after recent natural disasters have left travelers stranded -- is that airline bookings automatically come with travel assistance, should a flight delay cause you to miss your cruise departure.
Here's how it works:
Unlike typical air/sea programs, which assign cruisers their flights and seats as late as 30 days prior to departure, eZAir allows travelers to choose their airlines, travel dates and flight times upon booking --anytime from 330 to 4 days prior to departure -- with no customization fee. Flights that arrive too late or take off too early to work with cruise ship embarkation and debarkation times will automatically be blacked out in the system. In comparison, Princess' previous air/sea program, FlightChoice, did not allow travelers to choose their flights or arrange for a pre- or post-cruise stay, unless they chose to pay extra for FlightChoice Plus.
Flights booked through eZAir fall under two pricing schemes: "flexible," for tickets that are fully refundable up to 45 days before the flight and that can be changed at any time for free, and "restricted," a lower-priced option that is nonrefundable, incurs change fees and must be paid in advance.
But again, the real perk here is that eZAir passengers who experience flight delays and miss their cruise departures will be given assistance with rebooking flights to get to the next port of call. Princess spokeswoman Julie Benson says that, due to flight availability -- especially in the case of a natural disaster -- it might not be the first port of call, but at least travelers won't have to worry about rebooking flights and making their own arrangements. Although Princess has been working on this new system for quite some time, it's a fitting response to the heat Princess took from passengers earlier this year when the earthquake in Chile grounded flights and caused cruisers many headaches as they tried to get to their Santiago departure port -- often with minimal help from Princess' travel department.
Princess' eZAir is available on all cruises departing after September 1, 2010. Passengers who have already booked airfare through Princess for cruises departing after that date will have their reservations transferred to the "flexible" air option. At press time, Benson was uncertain whether airfares paid under the FlightChoice program would be protected when the bookings switch over to eZAir.
Will other cruise lines follow suit and offer more flexible air/sea programs? We'll keep you posted.
--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor