P&O Cruise Passengers Delayed for Hours by U.S. Customs

June 7, 2011
p&o-arcadia (5 p.m. EDT) -- About 2,000 cruise-ship passengers, mostly elderly Britons, recently got more than they bargained for when P&O Cruises' Arcadia stopped in Los Angeles: full security checks from U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers that turned a one-day visit into turmoil.

According to the Daily Telegraph newspaper, eight CBP officers took seven hours to clear the passengers on May 26, despite the fact that they'd already completed Electronic System for Travel Authorization forms, a standard visa waiver program for travel in the United States that's designed to facilitate multiple-entry trips. Passengers reportedly had to stand for hours, without access to food, water or restrooms, causing several to pass out.

The ship was on a 72-day North American and Caribbean tour, and this was the 10th stop in a U.S. port. The delays caused the ship to extend its stay in L.A. by 24 hours, and a planned port call for later in the week in Roatan, Honduras, was scuttled.

Rachel Campbell, media relations manager with Port of Los Angeles, told Cruise Critic this afternoon the delay occurred due to a system failure. "This issue was handled by Customs and Border Protection, and essentially out of the Port's control," Campbell wrote.

While CBP officers used their full discretionary rights to subject Arcadia's cruisers to fingerprints of both hands, retina scans and detailed passport and background checks, some passengers claim the extended checks were retaliatory, perhaps in response to grousing by some passengers as to the necessity for lengthy security procedures. Additionally, the agents' computer malfunctioned, causing even further delays.

A P&O Cruises rep put most of the blame on the CBP, according to the Telegraph report, which quoted her as saying: "The delay in immigration procedures was largely to blame on issues with the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) computer systems, not aided by the verbal approach that a minority of our passengers, clearly frustrated by this delay, took with the local immigration officers."

Cruise Critic has reached out to the CBP and is waiting for a promised response.

--by Jodi Thompson, Cruise Critic contributor