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Government agency flooded with cruise refund complaints now considering a rule change

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Posted at 6:00 AM, Oct 12, 2021

BALTIMORE — During the COVID-19 pandemic, cruise lines were ordered not to sail. Passengers’ trips were cancelled, however, not all received refunds. Many customers told WMAR-2 News they were issued credits.

While the U.S Department of Transportation has clear guidelines on when airlines must issue refunds, the rules are more ambiguous when it comes to cruise lines.

“Each and every line had a different policy, so what we did is we worked with the Department of Transportation and we mirrored a lot of their refund policies, so that we could standardize it across the board,” said Federal Maritime Commissioner Louis Sola.

For the past 16 months, Commissioner Sola has been investigating the effects of COVID-19 on the cruise industry, including refund policies.

The FMC is now proposing a new rule that, if approved, would require cruise lines to:

  • Refund consumers within 60 days if a cruise is cancelled or delayed by 24 hours or more
  • If it’s cancelled or delayed by more than a day due to a governmental order then refunds must be paid within 180 days following a passenger request
  • Passengers would be able to request refunds no less than six months after the scheduled voyage

To read more about the proposed rule, click here.

The FMC is seeking comments on this change up until October 25. They'll make any tweaks then hold a final vote. Three out of five commissioners are needed to pass the rule.

To submit any comments, email secretary@fmc.gov and include in the subject line: “Docket No. 20-15, Comments on PVO Financial Responsibility Rulemaking.” Comments should be attached to the email as a Microsoft Word or text-searchable PDF document.

Passenger with pending military deployment and cancer diagnosis initially denied cruise refund
Amanda Fikri wants to see more regulation when it comes to cruise refunds. Her family was booked on a cruise scheduled to depart in December of 2020, until it was cancelled.

Fikri opted for a credit thinking with vaccines coming, they’d be able to travel sometime soon, but a few months later, her husband received news that would impact their plans.

“My husband had a pending deployment because he’s active duty military,” said Fikri. “Right then we called [Royal Caribbean] and said hey, we would like to, instead of using the credit, we’d just like a refund. They said nope, sorry, too late you can’t refund that.”

A few months later, her family experienced a new setback.

“My husband found out he was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkins Lymphoma and that’s right around the time he saw your story regarding the lady who had a similar situation with Royal Caribbean,” Fikri said.

RELATED: Family fights for cruise refund following cancer diagnosis

Fikri called Royal Caribbean again to explain the military and medical issues impacting their ability to utilize a cruise credit. Once again, she said they were denied a refund.

“Now everything is stacked up against us. My husband is looking at possibly an end of military and that would leave us financially uncertain and with a lot of questions and that’s very scary for us and we have almost $3,000 sitting with Royal Caribbean that we can’t use,” said Fikri.

WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii contacted Royal Caribbean. A representative confirmed that the cruise line would be refunding the family the full amount.

Fikri’s thrilled the company changed its mind but wants to see better protections for all consumers.

The proposed rule wouldn’t help customers such as Fikri with cruises cancelled in the last 2 years, but it would create a new standard and modify the Passenger Vessel Act for the first time in over one hundred years.

“So, now, as we go ahead and start cruising again, I believe this consumer confidence rule is essential to us never going through this again,” Sola said.

Commissioner Sola is hopeful the rule will be in place by early next year.

The FMC also handles consumer complaints. You can email them at complaints@fmc.gov.

Sofastaii contacted Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the cruise industry trade association, about the proposed rule. In an email, a spokeswoman wrote: "CLIA is in the process of reviewing the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking with our members."