The cruise industry finally instituted Ebola-specific protocols after the highly publicized incident yesterday when a healthcare worker from Dallas was discovered to be on a Carnival cruise to the Caribbean.
TravelPulse published an article discussing the new protocols Cruise Industry Adopts Stricter Ebola Screenings.
Cruise lines like Carnival are finally asking cruise passengers whether they have come into contact with an Ebola patient or worked at a healthcare facility where such a person was treated, within the last 21 days. Cruise lines are also finally inquiring whether the passengers have visited Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone within the last three weeks. It was a glaring error not to have such a basic protocol before yesterday.
But there is a problem with the questionnaire. It doesn't address what happens if a passenger checks "yes" to these questions.
Obviously the questions are designed to bar the passenger and his companions from traveling on the cruise ship. The issue remains will the passenger's cruise fare and travel expenses be refunded? Will the cruise passengers receive a full cruise credit?
We know from norovirus cases that many cruise passengers, although they are symptomatic, refuse to disclose that they have a fever and a runny nose. They then get on the cruise ship and infect others.
Many passengers are inherently selfish. They have planned the cruise far in advance. They have obtained vacation time from work and blocked a week of "family time." They have looked forward to the cruise for many months. They have flown or driven long distances to the cruise port at considerable expense. They realize that they will be barred from embarking and their vacation will be ruined if they provide full and complete answers about their health.
Cruise lines are inherently selfish too. Although they collect literally billions and billions each year and pay no U.S. income tax, cruise lines are notoriously stringent in not permitting cruise vacationers to cancel if they experience last minute medical emergencies or even deaths in the family. There is great debate about the need for travel insurance. The attitude toward people who don't purchase insurance and then suffer a medical problem is often "screw 'em."
The result is that cruise passengers are often not honest about their health and the cruise lines are often unreasonable in not permitting their guests to reschedule and issue them a cruise credit.
So they sneak aboard, already infected with the nasty norovirus.
But unlike the noro bug, Ebola is deadly. The consequences of carrying Ebola aboard a cruise ship packed with 5,000 passengers and crew members is too great.
The health questionnaire should include language which states that if you checked "yes" to any of the Ebola questions, don't worry. No you won't be able to cruise, but you are entitled to a full refund and your travel expenses will be refunded as well.
Cruise Critic posted an article today about the new questionnaire. The articles states: "Notably, cruise lines rely on passengers and crew to provide honest and accurate answers in health screenings and on health questionnaires. CLIA said intentionally providing false or misleading answers is a criminal offense and is subject to prosecution."
Threatening cruise passengers with criminal prosecution is ridiculous. It's the wrong idea. First of all, there is no criminal law which applies and no prosecutor will ever take such a case. You can't scare a consumer into doing the right thing.
Instead, the cruise industry has to anticipate that cruise passengers will be less than candid. Cruise lines need to provide an incentive by way of a refund. You can call it the "Ebola refund."
This will require a substantial change in the greedy attitude of the cruise industry. But it's absolutely necessary to prevent what happened yesterday on the Carnival Magic.