Celebrity Cruises Abandons Disabled Passenger in Guadeloupe

A newspaper in Michigan is reporting on what is described as a the "shocking and scary" story of a disabled cruise passenger who faced  the obstacles of a non ADA-compliant cruise ship only to have the cruise line force him off the ship in a Caribbean port to fend for himself alone. 

Jim Keskeny, age 66, is confined to a wheelchair after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis ("MS").  He booked a cruise of the eastern Caribbean with Celebrity Cruises, which is owned by cruise line giant Royal Caribbean Cruises.

The newspaper reports that Mr. Keskeny paid $4,000 for a larger stateroom for his wheelchair.  He Jim Keskeny - ADA - Cruise Ship - Disability - Handicapped Passenger also reportedly paid extra to have a crew member available to assist him because he was traveling alone. 

According to the article "Voices of Disability: Cruise Line Strands Disabled Senior on Island" written by journalist Jerry Wolffe,  Mr. Keskeny had traveled extensively during his career on behalf of the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation.  But his treatment on the cruise ship was like nothing he had experienced before.  The cruise line refused to assist him getting over the non ADA-compliant threshold into the bathroom, or to assist him when he fell.  “They wouldn’t touch me,” he said. “I felt like a leper.”

“If they had to touch me or lift me, I would be made to disembark,” he said cruise officials told him.

On the seventh day of the cruise, the cruise officers were true to their threat.  They ordered Mr. Keskeny off the cruise ship and left him in his wheelchair in Guadeloupe, alone.  He reportedly spent about $1,500 to get home. 

The newspaper notes that of additional concern to Mr. Keskeny, was the fact that he had to travel through the airport in Haiti.  Travel to Haiti normally requires vaccinations for certain diseases which pose a particular threat to Mr. Keskeny because of his MS which weakens a person’s immune system. 

The cruise in question was aboard the Century, one of Celebrity Cruises' older ships.

Although our firm does not handle ADA violation cases, the issue of how cruise lines treat or, in this case, mistreat customers is of particular interest to me.   How any particular corporation treats the handicapped and elderly is ultimately the greatest reflective of the ethics and core values of the company.

We asked Royal Caribbean for its side of the story but the cruise line refused to respond.

Ironically, in February we reported on this cruise line exceeding a disabled passenger's expectations (admittedly only after a few disastrous attempts).  Consider reading Celebrity Cruises Provides Perfect Cruise for Visually Impaired Guest.

Readers, what do you believe is the cruise line with the best (or worst) reputation for accommodating the needs of disabled passengers? 

Let us hear from you.  Please leave a comment below.  

April 13, 2011 Update:  Cruise Critic has an article with Celebrity's spin on the story - "Disabled Cruise Passenger Ordered Off Celebrity Ship During Charter."  The article says that the cruise line has a policy that passengers with special needs must be self-sufficient and, if need be, travel with a companion to provide assistance with eating, dressing, toileting or lifting. I initially did not see any such language on Celebrity's web site or in its "Special Needs" section. Under a section called "Outstanding Service," the cruise line says: With one staff member for nearly every two guests, Celebrity's personal service anticipates your every need. Unobtrusively. Intuitively. So you'll feel restored and relaxed–effortlessly. In your stateroom . . ."

A reader brought the answer to the question "Can I Travel Alone?" in the Frequently Asked Questions site to my attention.  However, this is not a term or condition in the passenger ticket and is just an "answer" to a "frequently asked question" and of no legal effect.  I see no terms and conditions stating that the cruise line can send a disabled passenger off the ship for not reading a "frequently asked question."   

In any event, why kick a 66 year old disabled passenger off of a cruise under these circumstances?

Where is the compassion people?

Although Cruise Critic quotes the cruise line calling the incident "regrettable," and the company which chartered the cruise ship uses the phrase "terribly unfortunate," it looks like their regret for Mr. Kesney's misfortune stops short of reimbursing him a penny. 

April 18, 2011 Update:  Read our updated article: Celebrity Cruises and Disabled Passenger Exchange Threats - Are Celebrity's Cruise Ships ADA Compliant?

 

Photo credit:  WXYZ ABC-7 Farmington Michigan

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Comments (28) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Pat - April 11, 2011 10:03 PM

Jim,

Thanks posting this news story! When I was on a 15-day Hawaii round trip on HAL's Statendam in 2005, I was highly impressed with how patiently the crew assisted mobility-challenged passengers with trays in buffet lines, boarding tenders and more. HAL even had a special check-in lane for those using wheelchairs and walkers.

The only gripes I heard were from able-bodied px, some of whom were age 65+ themselves) complaining because there were so many folks with scooters, wheelchairs, walkers and canes. I'm glad my mother taught me to have compassion for those with challenges. Who was it who said, "There but for the grace of God go I!"?

EK - April 12, 2011 2:45 AM

If I could I wouldn't travel this cruise or any affiliated with it after reading this article and what they did to this poor man. I am handicap too although my husband would tavel with me, does not matter they should be hospitable and compassionate to anyone. They should reimburse this man part of his trip fare. Uncalled for and dispicable.

jerry wolffe - April 12, 2011 12:45 PM

Thanks for running my story on Mr. Keskeny. I had always wanted to take a cruise but am not sure I'd go considering I use a wheelchair. Hopefully, Royal Caribbean gets some training in disability etiquette and pays attention to the ADA which we helped create 21 years ago with the late Justin Dart Jr.
Jerry Wolffe, "Voices of Disability" columnist, the Oakland Press

Pat Lenhart - April 12, 2011 8:29 PM

A couple of question:

Why wasn't the passenger in an ADA compliant room? All of Celebrity ships have them.

Why didn't the passenger bring a trained companion? The butlers on Celebrity are just that , butlers. They are not home health workers or CNA's. Helping someone with their tray is very different from helping someone on and off the toilet.

GNS - April 13, 2011 8:25 AM

Jim

You may want to check out another report of the details of this event. There appears to be more pertinate information than was put in to Mr. Wolffe's column.

http://www.cruisecritic.com/news/news.cfm?ID=4446

David W - April 13, 2011 8:40 AM

Please also remember that this was a CHARTERED sailing and the passenger was responsible to divulge and represent his needs accurately to the Charter company so that this information could be relayed to Celebrity Cruises, something he utterly failed to do.

http://www.cruisenude.com/French_continental_details.html

David W - April 13, 2011 8:57 AM

Q - "Still, why kick a 66 year old disabled passenger off of a cruise under these circumstances?"

A - "His needs were very extensive," Teimann told Cruise Critic. "He needed help every time he had to get out of bed and go to the bathroom, every time he needed to take a bath. These tasks aren't something that the cruise lines avail themselves of beyond their normal duties. He really needed someone 24/7, and we had to go by cruise line policy when we were made aware of the situation."

Q - Under a section called "Outstanding Service," the cruise line says: With one staff member for nearly every two guests, Celebrity's personal service anticipates your every need. Unobtrusively. Intuitively. So you'll feel restored and relaxed–effortlessly. In your stateroom . . ."

A - This applies to normal hotel-style services of the ship, not extensive 1-on-1 medical attention to severely handicapped passengers who didnt think to bring a nurse or attendant.


Hey CRUISE LAW NEWS, admit you were wrong and quit siding with the guy who misrepresented himself AND his extensive medical needs.

Kathy Lawson - April 13, 2011 8:59 AM

As an attorney, you should check your facts before you publish an article.

1. Celebrity is a ADA compliant ship and you stated it was NOT.

2. This man was not "forced" off the ship, but given the opportunity to have a private duty nurse to assist him since he was unable to take care of himself, get in and out of bed, fell off of the toliet, etc. He refused the offer of assistance even after arrangements were made and people were moved out of the cabin close to him to accomodate a nurse.

3. You cannot pay extra to have a crew member, butler or otherwise "assigned to you" on a cruise ship. Butlers, in suites only, are there to assist you by helping you unpack and pack and serve food in your cabin. Period. There are several other cabins that you do not have to get, that are wheelchair compliant.

4. A cruiseship is not a nursing home or assisted living facility. He paid the normal cruise fare for two people in a SUITE and his wife canceled at the last minute. He COULD HAVE gotten someone else to accompany him since he needed assistance getting in and out of the bed, bath and toliet.

5. The cruiseline contract states that you must be self sufficient if you are handicapped or have someone accompany you to help you out.

6. You must fill out a special needs form requesting an accessible room with a roll in shower.

Celebrity states clearly on its website that they will assit passengers in a wheelchair getting on and off the ship. You as an attorney know the liability issues involved if a cruise ship or other company was to assist someone without proper training and an accident happened.

Again, check your facts before you post such garbage. You would never try this in court without the facts to back it up.

Jim Walker - April 13, 2011 9:30 AM

Hey David Walker and Kathy Lawson:

A "frequently asked question" is not a legally enforceable term and condition.

We asked Celebrity for its side of the story and it refused to respond.

There is nothing I have read stating the cruise line can force a passenger from the cruise ship and dump him in a Caribbean island by himself for not reading a "frequently asked question." That's a cruel, mean spirited and preposterous argument.

If the question has to be "frequently asked," then the passenger contract is ambiguous and must be construced against the cruise line.

You and David Walker should develop some compassion for those less fortunate than youselves before you end up in a wheelchair yourself one day God forbid and die.

Jim Walker

David W - April 13, 2011 9:59 AM

Wow. Talk about being blinded by ones profession. Sad. Did you even READ the article you linked in your update. I mean really read it? Celebrity can do whatever they want. Its THEIR cruise line, its not a nursing home. But go ahead and pick sides, you just have picked the WRONG side.

David W - April 13, 2011 10:08 AM

Q - There is nothing I have read stating the cruise line can force a passenger from the cruise ship and dump him in a Caribbean island by himself for not reading a "frequently asked question." That's a cruel, mean spirited and preposterous argument.

A - Tiemann stated her company did its best to accommodate Keskeny given the situation. When word surfaced that he was UNABLE TO TAKE CARE OF EVEN THE MOST BASIC NEEDS, she suggested to Celebrity that a private nurse be brought onboard in St. Barth's, the first port of call. Some Bare Necessities staff could be moved around, doubled up in cabins, so that cabin space could be opened up near Keskeny's suite. The line acquiesced, but KESKENY ultimately DECLINED TO HIRE THE NURSE, and he was first ordered to debark the vessel...

ccc1001 - April 13, 2011 10:30 AM

Jim, If you review posts, comments and reviews of other disabled passegers and families who have traveled Celbrity - they give rave reviews. Of course they did not expect the ship to care for their every need. No cruiseline can be expected to provide the care that this passenger demanded. Sorry, but if you can't take care of yourself - you're off the ship - does that really have to be explicitly stated?

Of course you are biased, which is why you present a clearly limited and slanted view of the facts and situation.

Jim Walker - April 13, 2011 11:50 AM

Dear CCC1001: Yes, I'm usually biased in favor of disbled passengers kicked off of a cruise to fend for themselves. You can pick the side of the foreign flagged non-tax paying cruise line which fought against disabled passengers and the application of the ADA, and I'll pick the other side.

David: You have summed up the reality of the situation perfectly:

"Celebrity can do whatever they want. Its THEIR cruise line . . . "

This type of arrogant and holier-than-you attitude is the trademark of RCCL; we deal with it everyday.

A disabled passenger hires a disabled (blind) from his home state lawyer to try and recover the actual out-of-pocket expenses from a Fortune 200 company and gets trashed by the Cruise Critic fan club?

What a mean and nasty bunch of grinches you all are.

Jim Walker

David W - April 13, 2011 12:35 PM

Jim, what you seem to keep forgetting is that he WASN'T 'kicked off the ship'. He was given every opportunity to hire a nurse and the cruise line and tour company leaped through hoops to try and accommodate him even AFTER this came to light - yet HE RUFUSED. He was the one that purchased the airline ticket connecting through Haiti. Seriously, there aren't ANY flights back to the US that don't go through Haiti? Really? And it isn't the cruise line he should be going after; it should be the Tour Operator. But despite having ALL the known facts laid out in front of you (no, you shouldn't put that HOT coffee you just bought at the McDonalds drive-thru between your legs) you will no doubt fight the good fight, not the fight that needs to be won, but whatever fight you can toss out inflammatory hyperbole based on a half-baked opinion piece to slander a cruise line over a million people (including those with disabilities) enjoy every year. But hey! Why let the FACTS get in the way of a good story? ;)

Jim Walker - April 13, 2011 1:22 PM

David:

Nowhere in the Celebrity contract does it permit the cruise line to involuntarily disembark a fare paying passenger unless they pay extra and hire a nurse. Celebrity is just making this up as it goes. Its unfortunate that you find yourself in such a pack of mean people supporting a cruise line which, as you stated so succintly, "can do whatever they want."

Now, enough of you. There must be some other elderly or disabled person you can try and kick around.

Goodbye.

Jim Walker


Kathy Lawson - April 13, 2011 1:49 PM

The facts, Jim. How can you dispute the facts???

This passenger refused an offer of a nurse to be brought on for his care, when it was discovered that he was not self-sufficent and could injure himself by the very fact that he fell off of a toliet and could not get up without help. Celebrity's "duty" is not to be a nurse maid to this man. They are not caregivers but providers of a cruise vacation.

This ship IS ADA compliant and you said it was not.

This passenger signed a CRUISE CONTRACT agreeing to be fit for travel. He did not have to read about the terms in the Faq's section.

Here's the pertinent part from the contract:

14. Passenger warrants that he and those traveling with him are fit for travel and that such
travel will not endanger themselves or others. Carrier reserves the right to terminate a Passenger's cruise or RCT Land Tour or both at any time, at the risk and expense of the Passenger disembarked, when in the opinion of Carrier, Passenger is believed to be a danger to himself or a disturbance or danger to others.

Again, the facts. Maybe you should check them out before siding with someone and something you don't have all the facts to.

Talk about compassion, my sisters are handicapped, I'll have you know and I would never ever send them on any kind of a cruise by themselves expecting them to fend for themselves and they would never expect a crew member to be a "nurse" for them either.

That was really uncalled for you saying you hoped we didn't end up in a wheelchair and die. What does dying have to do with anything anyway???

Michele H. - April 13, 2011 2:34 PM

I'm curious Mr. Walker, what could the cruise line have done that would've made you happy? Expecting someone who cleans rooms, serves food, makes spa appointments help someone take a shower and use the toilet is a bit excessive don't you think?

I have HUGE respect home health aids and caregivers who are able to do that, but I know for a fact it's not something I can do. Is it really fair to expect staff not trained, and possibly not even physically able to do handle it, to do those things?

Should Celebrity cover the cost of their nurse to work with this man basically full time for an entire week? What precedent would that set?!?!?

I think everyone has sympathy for this man, but there comes a time when, disability or not, you need to take responsibility for yourself and your own actions. Being disabled is not the same as being entitled. I think this man needs some clarification on that.

He was asking for something he was not entitled to and if you take the disability portion out of the equation, it's that simple. He needs care, the cruise line does not provide care. Can't get much easier to understand than that.

Jim Walker - April 13, 2011 2:46 PM

Kathy:

You are just repeating Celebrity's taking points.

Fact: Celebrity put a 66 year old disabled passenger alone on an island knowing that he could not take care of himself. That's down right mean in my book.

Cruise Law News allocates only some much meaness per reader. You have used your quota up.

Now go back to the Cruise Critic message boards and have fun with your able bodied friends.

Jim Walker

Jim Walker - April 13, 2011 3:12 PM

Michelle:

Who said he needed a nurse? Other passengers were helping him out. Why kick him off?

I don't hear anyone expressing sympathy. There certainly is no hint of genuine sympathy in your comment.

When people like you talk about taking "personal responsibility," it is a code phrase for no "corporate responsibility."

Dumping a disabled person in a wheelchair on an island when the cruise line concluded he couldn't take care of himself is corporate malfeasance at the worst.

PS Be sure to look the other way when that homeless person in a wheelchair asks for a quarter when you are stopped at a red light.

Jim Walker

Anonymous - April 14, 2011 9:46 AM

Princess Cruises did this to one of its own employees from the corporate office who is confined to a wheelchair. He brought 2 of his buddies to assist him with getting on and off a ship. The ship was tendered in Cabo when this occured. The ship adv no wheelchairs could go off of the ship. The employee signed something that would allow him off the ship where the cruise line was not responsible. Due to the issue he was then fired.

Nancy Tiemann - April 20, 2011 8:47 PM

I feel the need to weigh in here because many key points are not mentioned in this article. I am the charterer of the ship in question. Mr. Keskeny was booked into a stateroom with wife, Nancy, who became ill at the last minute and decided not to come. The Keskeny's have both traveled with us on one other charter without incident.

When Mr. Keskeny decided to come without his wife, one would naturally think that he had the blessing of his wife as well as felt he could travel alone without assistance. Apparently he thought his ticket price of $4,000.00 (for he and his wife), which included a butler, meant he would have the butler's assistance if he needed it. I might add at this point that Mr. Kesleny did call our office about 5 days prior to sailing to tell us that his wife would not be coming with him due to illness but again, this did not raise any concern. We have other special needs, wheelchair bound people who travel unaccompanied without problem and he filled out the cruise documents and signed the cruise contract - so we did not question his ability of taking care of himself without his wife's assistance.

The cruise line did in fact offer to get Mr. Keskeny a private nurse so that he could continue on with the cruise but he declined the service.

The Celebrity Century is one of the best cruises we have ever chartered with and we have been doing full ship charters for over 21 years. They were more than willing to assist our guests when needed... Including Mr. Keskeny. As a matter of fact, we had one guest who needed a blood transfusion but had type O negative blood. A Celebrity Century crew member, also O negative, offered to give his own blood so that that the passenger would be safe until we could get her to a hospital on land. Does that sound like a line that doesn't care about it's guests? I think not.

The whole incident with Mr. Keskeny was terribly unfortunate to say the least, but to paint Celebrity or RCCL cruise lines as less than accommodating to their guests is simply not the truth.

Jim Walker - April 20, 2011 9:09 PM

Thanks Nancy for your comments. Two questions:

1. Do you think that the cruise line should have forced Mr. Keskeny off the ship in Guadeloupe?

2. Do you think you or Celebrity should refund his cruise fare and airfare home?

We have an updated article. I'd be interested in your comments on this article as well:

http://www.cruiselawnews.com/2011/04/articles/special-needs-1/celebrity-cruises-and-disabled-passenger-exchange-threats-are-celebritys-cruise-ships-ada-compliant/

Nancy Tiemann - April 22, 2011 2:45 PM

Here is how I see it Mr. Walker,

Mr. Keskeny was at choice from the moment he booked the stateroom for he and his wife last May until he disembarked the passed February.

1- He was offered and encouraged to take out trip cancellation insurance at the time of booking and in his confirmation letter. We urge all of our guests to take out this insurance which covers everything from lost luggage to trip interruption and full cancellation. Had the Keskeny's chosen to protect their $4,000.00 investment (92% of our guests on this last cruise did so), they could have cancelled for a full refund when Nancy became ill and unable to come. It would have covered trip interruption and airfare home. The cost to cover this investment, based on what The Keskeny's paid for their cabin? $220.00.

2- Mr. Keskeny chose not to allow the ship to get him an assistant when they offered to arrange one for him. Our company was fully prepared to move our own staff people around (the ship was sold out) in order that such an assistance would be near Mr. Keskeny's suite and not have to stay in the same stateroom with him.

3 - Mr. Keskeny chose his own air arrangements from Guadeloupe to Michigan. Again, this airfare would have been covered by trip cancellation insurance.

In closing I want to reiterate that the whole situation was extremely unfortunate. In 21 yearsin this business, I have not experienced an occurrence the likes of this one. I deem Mr. Keskeny to be a well-educated, informed, intelligent and kind man. But we all make choices in our lives, some of them sound and others not. Mr. Keskeny's choices (I believe) were not in his best interest. And as unfortunate as the entire thing was, I do not believe that my company or the cruise line should be responsible for those choices.

Jim Walker - April 22, 2011 8:49 PM

Nancy:

You're right, we all make choices in our lives.

Celebrity Cruise chose to kick a kind, disabled man in a wheelchair off in a remote island alone.

You chose to support the cruise line's choice.

You and the cruise line chose to keep all of his money he spent on the cruise.

You chose to have little regret for such an "unfortunate" event.

You chose to demonstrate a harsh attitude toward someone less "fortunate" than you, especially on this Easter Friday.

Jim Walker

Nancy Tiemann - April 23, 2011 11:57 AM

Harsh attitude? Please counsellor. Guadeloupe remote? Hardly. Ever been there?

The Truth? Mr. Keskeny must now live with the consequences of his own choices.

Happy Easter Mr. Walker.

Jim Walker - April 26, 2011 1:44 PM

And you, Ms. Tiemann, must live with yours.

Toniann - March 1, 2012 1:06 PM

I am disgusted by Nancy, Kathy, and David. Your lack of compassion is disgusting and it is people like you that probably walk past a struggling elderly person in the streets without offering help or assistance. You all have the attitude of "its not my problem" and that is what is so wrong with this world. What the cruise line did to this man was just plain wrong. Given the circumstances I am 100% sure there were other alternatives rather than removing this gentleman from the cruise ship. You all should be rather ashamed of yourselves.

peggy - March 4, 2012 11:05 PM

My husband is handicapped and confined to a wheel chair. I will be traveling with him. If by some chance he would fall and I couldnt get him up myself, will no one help me and will we be kicked off the ship because of an accicent..

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