P&O Cruises in Row Over ‘Wrong Kind’ of Mobility Aid

May 16, 2012
Carnival-Freedom (12:15 p.m. EDT) -- An argument has broken out over a new policy that is being introduced by P&O Cruises from summer 2013 that requires passengers using certain mobility aids, like motorised scooters, to book a wheelchair accessible cabin, or a mini-suite and above.

Until now, there has been no obligation for someone using a mobility scooter to book a larger cabin, provided the scooter is not left in the corridor.

But a new EU regulation coming into effect at the end of this year allows P&O Cruises to implement this new policy on the grounds of ‘legitimate and proven safety concerns'.

As the line's ships are registered in Bermuda, the U.K. Equality Act, which protects the rights of people with disabilities in Britain, cannot be invoked to argue against this new ruling. Anybody who has not booked an approved cabin (the list of which is detailed on P&O Cruises' website) and tries to check in with a motorised scooter will be denied boarding.

Although this is new to P&O Cruises, and sister line Cunard will introduce the same regulations, the rules are not standard across the cruise industry. Thomson Cruises, for example, won't accept mobility scooters at all, or motorised wheelchairs.

P&O says its new policy has been carefully thought through with risk assessors, legal firms specialising in disability rights and feedback from other passengers. But one regular cruiser, Neil Owen from Yeovil, is up in arms, as the range of cabins available to him, as a part-time motorised scooter user, will from next summer be vastly diminished.

The problem, he claims, is that P&O has not thought through its definition of mobility aids. Mr. Owen uses a folding mobility scooter and only needs it for shore excursions, so he has no need for a wheelchair-adapted accommodation onboard – and his scooter fits neatly into the wardrobe of any cabin. But although it's smaller than many collapsible wheelchairs, which are exempt from this new ruling, the fact that he's using a scooter means he has to book an approved cabin.

In ongoing correspondence with P&O Cruises, Mr. Owen argues that certain smaller models of scooter should be allowed in regular cabins and the cruise line's rules should be clearly explained to guests via an ‘approved' list of equipment. He wrote to the line: “In your Terms and Conditions you already specify dimensions and weights for mobility scooters, therefore it would be easy to add ‘approved' folding scooters to the list.”

But P&O's customer assistance team responded by email: “The range of such scooters is too wide… and there is a question of how these exceptions will be perceived by other passengers who do not understand the difference and interpret this as carte blanche to bring their own, larger models, which will result in problems at future check-ins and ultimately disappointment for some.”

Mr. Owen continued: “The view is not driven by safety, but for ease of management… I am disgusted with this attitude shown as I can see no ‘proven' Health and Safety issue with me storing my folding scooter in my cabin wardrobe and using it on shore excursions.”

He is now writing to his MEP to seek clarification on whether P&O is within its legal rights to consider the storage of his scooter in his wardrobe a ‘legitimate and proven safety concern'. But the debate has reached an impasse for now; a letter from P&O's customer assistance manager to Mr. Owen states that the line will not be reconsidering its policy.

--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor