WPTV – 5 in West Palm Beach has an interesting article and video this morning about a U.S. soldier who was denied boarding on a cruise ship to the Bahamas by Celebration cruise line because he had only military I.D. with him.
The story involves Jupiter Florida mom Melissa Fontane who booked the cruise in celebration of her son, who serves with the 101st Airborne Division, returning to the U.S. on leave from service in Afghanistan. Before she purchased the cruise, she knew that her son did not have a passport nor did he have possession of his birth certificate. She asked if it was okay for him to use his military I.D.
"No problem!" the cruise line agent said.
What Ms. Fontane did not know, nor did the cruise line reveal, was that the Department of Homeland Security changed its policies and no longer permitted military I.D. to board a cruise ship.
As WPTV – 5 explains, not only did Celebration block soldier Fontane from boarding, but the cruise line refused to honor "Celebration’s protection plan" which Ms. Fontane paid extra for just in case she had to cancel for any reason. Celebration referred to the "fine print" drafted by their lawyers in the cruise ticket stating: ‘no refunds or changes are allowed if you’re denied boarding due to failure to provide proper documents.’
When Ms. Fontane tried to dispute the charges with her credit card company, Celebration blocked that move too, arguing that: ‘the guests were denied boarding due to failure to provide proper immigration documents. The booking, was cancelled, and charged the full penalty.’
Ms. Fontane tried to contact the Celebration executives but was given only the email of a low level customer care representative who completely ignored her.
Justifiably frustrated, she asked: "he can serve in Afghanistan, fly through different countries with his military I.D., but to go to the Bahamas on a cruise line is not acceptable?"
So what did Ms. Fontane do at this point? Did she hire a lawyer to fight the dastardly cruise line? No, that would not have make much of a difference in a case like this. Cruise lines like this are equally skilled at ignoring lawyers too.
She did something much smarter – she contacted the media.
When a local television station called Celebration and said it was airing an investigation, the cruise line suddenly changed its tune. Its all a big mistake the cruise line explained. Ms. Fontane received a full refund plus free cruises to be used when her son returns from overseas. The foreign incorporated and foreign flagged cruise line was suddenly full of American pride and patriotism, announcing:
"The President of Celebration spent 26 years in the military. We appreciate everything the brave men and women of the military do for our country . . . "
Ah, a happy ending to the story! Now if we can only get Celebration to begin paying U.S. taxes . . .
Video credit: WPTV Channel 5 West Palm Beach (Shannon Cake reporting)