Last night, the ill-fated Carnival Triumph finally docked in Mobile, Alabama after passengers had endured four days of discomfort following a fire that knocked out much of the ship’s power and left it bobbing listlessly in the water, requiring the vessel to be towed to port by tugboats in order to get passengers evacuated. The deteriorating conditions aboard the ship have dominated travel headlines, and its ultimately safe (if odorous) arrival at port was greeted with a collective sigh of relief from most of the general public — to say nothing, of course, of the travelers aboard the Triumph and their loved ones at home.
By now, it’s been widely reported that Carnival Cruise Lines has made efforts to patch things up with the understandably shaken passengers of the Triumph. The cruise line’s arrangements to charter buses and planes, book blocks of hotel rooms, and secure ways for all of the Triumph’s travelers to get home safely and quickly have been the subject of much scrutiny. As is the case with almost any travel nightmare of this magnitude and visibility, no matter what the cruise line ultimately does or does not do for its passengers will invite opinions on all sides. Debate is certain to rage — and is already, in fact, smoldering — as to whether or not cruise vouchers and refunds and passage home is really “enough.”
The trouble is, as consumer advocate Clark Howard aptly pointed out this morning, Carnival is not actually obligated to do anything to assist these unfortunate passengers. Contracts of carriage aboard cruise ships don’t usually include any kind of language that barely hints at the cruise line bearing responsibility for passengers’ happiness, comfort, or transportation needs should something on board go awry. To question, therefore, whether Carnival’s efforts in this case are “enough” for passengers is interesting, but it’s only an academic exercise. By offering the assistance they have, the cruise line has already gone well beyond what it’s contractually obligated to do. (Moral and ethical obligation may be another story, but that will ultimately be tried in the court of public opinion.)
Like it or not, if Carnival had chosen not to extend these offers of assistance, there wouldn’t be any legal need for them to do so — though there would, presumably, have been a resulting public relations snafu the likes of which no company aiming to stay in business would ever want to experience. In the event that the cruise line had not taken care of its passengers’ immediate needs, what recourse would they have had?
Travel insurance may have provided solutions for many of the Triumph’s passengers in that circumstance. A comprehensive travel insurance plan — one purchased from a third party, not from the cruise line — would very likely have covered most, if not all, of the difficulties experienced aboard the ship. Among the possibilities:
- Damaged belongings. If conditions aboard the ship — whether fire or flood — led to property damage, the baggage coverage included in a travel insurance package policy could have helped with replacing the affected items.
- Medical care. If a passenger fell ill or was injured on board, the medical coverage on their travel insurance policy might have helped to cover the costs of their treatment, if those costs were not already covered by their primary health insurance carrier.
- Rebooking. The Triumph’s passengers all ended up having to get home through alternate arrangements, not using the means they had originally planned. A reputable travel insurance company would not only have assistance available to make the necessary arrangements for transportation and, if necessary, lodgings, but would also potentially reimburse those costs.
- Reimbursement for pre-paid expenses. If any passengers had made arrangements for further travel beyond the scheduled return of their cruise, and had lost the opportunity to fulfill those plans, travel insurance could help them to recover any pre-paid, nonrefundable expenses.
It’s easy to assume that a cruise line, or any other travel supplier for that matter, will always do the right thing for its passengers. We’d like to believe that they will. However, situations like the one aboard the Carnival Triumph certainly give us a moment of pause as we consider what might have happened. The only way to be sure you’re protected in whatever way possible against the financial toll of a travel disaster is to equip yourself with an appropriate travel insurance policy from the moment you book your trip.