This Disabled Woman Learned The Hard Way How Few Rights Passengers Have On Cruise Ships

Carnival Cruise

Photo: News 10

A Miami woman’s account of getting kicked off a Carnival cruise makes us never want to book a cruise again. As News 10 describes it, Lillian Hensley and her daughter Christine were checking in for their trip to Jamaica when Carnival called to say they couldn’t find Christine’s portable dialysis machine. 

Christine requires nightly dialysis so Hensley had cleared the equipment with Carnival beforehand. But the mother was shocked when the cruise line booted them off the ship without so much as an explanation—or an apology. Even worse, the ship left with their luggage in tow while the Hensleys had to rush to the hospital. 

“I said, ‘Without everything? You’re giving me, like, a death sentence for my daughter,’ ” Hensley told News 10. “They just escorted us off the ship.” 

Consumer advocate and author of Scammed, Chris Elliott, said Hensley’s story was tragic, but not out of the norm for the industry. 

“The family’s rights—such as they are—are outlined in Carnival’s ticket contract,” he said in an email. “Cruise ship contracts are among the most customer hostile in the entire travel industry. They’re to protect the cruise line and deprive you of almost every right you thought you had. Worse, you agree to it by getting on the ship.” 

The reason, said James Walker, maritime attorney in Miami, is because no one bothers to read the contract until it’s too late. 

“Realistically, my view of the industry is that they do whatever they want to do and have self-serving contracts,” he said. “Unless the family was injured (and can prove) it was due to Carnival’s neglect and bad conduct, the law isn’t that much of a help.” 

And if you read the fine print, chances are you won’t like what you see. A cursory glance at Carnival’s contract revealed baggage is defined very strictly, but could exclude medical equipment. What’s more, the contract leaves little to no room for recourse if the ship decides to boot you off for no apparent reason. 

“It goes back to maritime rights where the master of the ship could kick off passengers for pretty much anything, particularly medical issues,” said Walker. “The cruise lines tend to take a harsh view that if you can’t care for yourself or don’t have someone to assist you, they won’t hesitate to kick you off.” 

If you’re preparing to book a cruise ship this summer, here a few things to keep in mind: 

Purchase travel insurance. “Having trip insurance that provides reimbursement is key, not only for your cruise, but for medical evacuation to the states or any type of contingency,” said Walker. Be sure to read these insurance tips before planning your next getaway.  

Read the passenger ticket carefully. Since there’s no telling what you’ll find buried in the fine print, it’s important to know what you’re getting into and whether taking a cruise is feasible given your health or that of your friends and family.  

Keep information on hand for the U.S. embassies and consulates. You never know what could happen when you’re abroad, Walker said, adding that it can’t hurt to contact the FBI if things go awry.  

For its part, Carnival issued a statement on Monday to News 10: “Carnival Cruise Lines sincerely apologizes for this most unfortunate situation and is providing everyone in the Hensley party with a full refund of their cruise fare, as well as a credit for a future five-day cruise with Carnival.” 

Now check out the hidden fees you’ll find on a cruise > 

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