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Travel Troubleshooter: Terminally ill woman wanted a final cruise

  • Article by: CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT
  • June 21, 2013 - 2:14 PM

Q: My mother was diagnosed with soft-tissue sarcoma last year. We had expected she would be around for at least another couple of years. But last week we discovered that the tumors she had more than tripled in size and a week later she was given a few days' life expectancy.

That bucket list cruise to Alaska, which is scheduled for next week, ain’t happening. In an effort to reduce debt, I tried to cancel her trip.

So I called the airlines she was scheduled to fly on. They said they simply needed a letter and some other details pertaining to her death, and I was told a refund would be no problem.

I called Princess Cruise Line and they told me that they would not refund her cruise for any reason.

Princess now has the opportunity to resell this space, even if it is at an incredible discount. This seems a bit unethical. What do you think?

 

A: Between the time you first wrote to me and the time I closed your case, your mother passed away. My condolences on your loss.

I looked into the details of your cruise, and when you said this was a bucket list vacation, you were not kidding. Your mother was terminally ill before she booked this trip with her sister, and most travel insurance would not cover her because of her pre-existing medical condition.

This isn’t a simple question of a cruise line pocketing the money for a passenger who passed away. Your mother and your aunt were taking their chances by booking a cruise under these circumstances. They knew they were taking a risk. Could Princess have resold the cabin? Maybe. But that’s beside the point.

The real question is: What should a cruise line do when a passenger dies? Airlines offer a refund, no questions asked. I believe that’s the right thing to do for cruise lines as well.

The Princess representatives you spoke with didn’t see it that way, mostly because your mother had not yet passed away. But after she did, I believe the cruise line’s position would have changed.

Indeed, when I contacted Princess on your behalf, it said her case was still “open,” meaning it hadn’t decided what to do yet. After it reviewed the details of your request, it refunded both your mother’s and your aunt’s cruise.

 

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at chris@elliott.org.

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