Passengers left banging heads

Ron Chamberlain – passenger packed and nowhere to go.

Ron and Marion Chamberlain wanted compensation for what they describe as half a cruise line experience. “Only half our cabin was useable” says Ron. So, he reasoned, it was worth just half a fare.

The Chamberlains would have accepted $2000 – about half the value of their 12-day cruise. But after turning down two much smaller cash offers and having their grievance thrown out by the Disputes Tribunal, the Otumoetai couple are left with nothing – except more questions and some homegrown advice to would-be cruisers.

“Cut out the middle man,” says Ron. “Go straight past the travel agent to the cruise company when booking, because they’re accountable.”

The travel agency involved, Flight Centre, has different advice.

Even after a trip is planned, things may not turn out exactly as expected,” says Flight Centre’s Sue Matson. “A flight is cancelled, luggage lost, a passport pilfered or someone falls ill while abroad, and when stuff happens, it’s reassuring to have someone who can provide advice and help resolve problems.”

Flight Centre, says Sue, has a ‘24/7 assist line’ for this very reason.

For the Chamberlains “stuff happened” as soon as they embarked on The Golden Princess. A set of upper bunks attached to the wall in their cabin, almost directly above one side of the Chamberlain’s double bed. “You couldn’t walk past it without bending over.”

The Chamberlains are nearing 80. “And you couldn’t get out of bed without cracking your head on it,” says Ron

The Chamberlains called a steward – “a very nice man” – but he was unable to re-assign them another cabin. “The ship was full. That’s it.” So they endured ‘half a cabin’ for the journey to Melbourne and around New Zealand.

When the Chamberlains got home he took up his grievance with Princess Cruises and Flight Centre. “Flight Centre offered me $150 to go away.” And Princess, he says, tried to appease him with $200. “No deal,” said Ron. “I didn’t think they would be so mean.”

And because Ron paid the travel agent for the cruise he expected it to honour the terms of the agreement and took the matter to the Disputes Tribal.

But, said the Disputes Tribunal, it was clear the contract was between the Chamberlains and Princess Cruises. “The booking terms and conditions make it clear the Flight Centre acts as an agent on behalf of travel service providers and does not provide the services itself.”

However, in the comments section of the invoice Flight Centre noted that cabin types, deck and cabin numbers maybe requested and are issued upon the cruise company’s discretion and are subject to change without notice prior to sailing.

“The particular type of cabin allocated to Mr and Mrs Chamberlain was outside Flight Centre’s control, therefore the problem they experienced was not due to any fault on its part. It follows they have not established any claim against Flight Centre.”

“The cruising public needs to be aware that booking with a travel agent lets them off the hook when stuff hits the fan,” says Ron. “So one should book directly with the shipping line, which is responsible for the product you receive.”

But Flight Centre says there are obvious advantages of working through a travel process with a travel agent. “Instead of having to deal individually with separate airlines, cruise lines, insurance companies, transfer providers, this can all be easily and seamlessly managed by a travel expert,” says Sue.

And there are somethings outside the control of a travel agent. For example, if a customer’s legs are too long and they are uncomfortable on a flight, or if they are tall and bang their heads on an overhead luggage compartment on plane, or when walking into a hotel room.

Another example floated to The Weekend Sun is if someone chooses to fly with a low cost carrier, with two stopovers and no meals on a journey they might not have as an enjoyable travel experience. But it’s a decision they will have made themselves.

A doctor suggested the Chamberlains proceed with their plans for the cruise but Ron’s now not sure of the benefits. He says both offers of compensation for “half a cruise ship cabin” were rubbish.

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