Mountain View couples stiffed by cruise line

June 2, 2009 7:04:46 PM PDT
Four Bay Area tourists saved up for a cruise ship vacation but got left stranded on the shore. There are some new rules people need to know about.

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It was supposed to be a fun-filled and sun-soaked vacation for two couples from Mountain View, a 10-day cruise on the Sea of Cortez aboard a Holland America luxury liner.

"It was a sort of a new adventure for us and we were looking forward to that," said John Hirschbek.

The ship was setting sail from San Diego at 5 p.m. so they booked a flight arriving five hours ahead. That was plenty of time until fog rolled in at the airport.

"There was a delay, a further delay, further delay...Here it got all the way to 2:00 in the afternoon, 2:30, 3:00..." recalled John.

They started getting really nervous so they called Holland America from the plane.

"They said to hurry and get our baggage and get right over there," said Patricia Hirschbek.

By the time they landed in San Diego they had just 10 minutes to get across town and onto the ship.

"It was like the Amazing Race. We explained to the cab driver get us to the ship. Boy, we were almost like going through red lights," John recalled.

They pulled up to the pier hugely relieved to find the ship was still there. They had made it, or so they thought.

"We drove up to the gates and started to get out. He said, 'Sorry. You're five minutes late.' What do you mean five minutes late?" said Patricia.

The ship's crew would not let them onboard. They said Homeland Security requires a passenger manifest 30 minutes before departure and they were five minutes past deadline.

"It was so traumatic. We could not believe it," said Patricia. "We just stood there with our mouths open."

The four travelers were left standing at the port, luggage and tickets in hand, watching the ship pull out.

"We watched it sail away. You talk about a let-down. That was really just stunning," John said.

They became even angrier when the ship let four other people on board even though they were late too. That's because one was a chaplain.

"Even when we came home we spent sleepless nights," said Patricia.

"We'd wake up in the morning, we just could not believe we were not on the ship and then we had to unpack the suitcases and look at the clothes," said Elsie LaHerran.

Homeland Security told 7 On Your Side the passenger manifest actually is due 60 minutes prior, not 30. It is up to the ship to take whatever steps necessary to verify it is correct.

The couples had checked in online weeks ahead of time, providing information for the manifest. Travel attorney Al Anolik says the cruise ship could have tried to accommodate them.

He claims, "They already could have notified the security people on the deck, 'These four people will be arriving late. We know who they are.'"

Holland America also refused a refund.

"We have no passenger rights legislation that might have talked about some of this," Anolik said.

The group called 7 On Your Side and 7 On Your Side contacted Holland America. The company said the online check-in should have been enough to get them on board so Holland America provided each with a voucher good for a future cruise.

"We're happy with at least that," said Patricia.

So, when taking a cruise consider going in a full day ahead of time and consider buying a travel insurance policy. Both could have saved these guys a lot of grief.

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