The Holland America Line (HAL) excursion staff on the Westerdam is in an uproar after Yahoo Travel published an article yesterday containing criticisms of its excursion policies and procedures. I was quoted in the article. I characterized HAL’s policy of assessing a 100% penalty against cruise passengers who cancel a seaplane excursion more than 3 days before the cruise as dangerous and irresponsible.
An officer on the cruise line left comments here claiming he was "deeply offended," first, by my criticism of the reckless HAL policy and, secondly, because I didn’t retract my comments and apologize to him personally. Other crew members and HAL fans howled in protest that criticisms were levied against the cruise line.
The arrogance of the cruise lines never ceases to amaze me.
Hurt feelings of an officer on a cruise ship is perhaps the last thing I am thinking of in a tragic case where 8 innocent passengers have lost their lives and their families are grieving enormously.
All victims deserve nothing less than an exhaustive investigation, detailed analysis and vigorous debate regarding what happened. But the cruise lines never (ever) release the results of their investigation voluntarily. After their PR department expresses condolences, the cruise lines’ defense attorneys go to work defending the cruise lines and casting blame on others whenever they can.
The cruise lines prefer that no one discusses what most likely happened. They personally attack critics. HAL thrives on these tactics, as I have learned before.
But the unfortunate truth is that cruise lines are not proactive in making changes to their safety policies. Their guests and crew members have to be injured or killed before they do the right thing. The Costa Concordia had to happen before Carnival-owned Costa would stop its reckless policy of sailing dangerously close to the shore in what is called a "salute" or a "fly-by." 32 people had to die and thousands had to be terrorized before Carnival stopped this stunt.
The Carnival-owned Triumph had to be hauled across the Gulf of Mexico and CNN devote non-stop coverage to the disgusting spectacle before the cruise line would install splash guards to prevent fuel and oil lines from spraying over the engines and erupting in fire.
Dozens of cruise passengers from the Carnival-owned Fascinosa had to be gunned down when terrorists waited for them to exit from an excursion bus in Tunis before Carnival / Costa would begin to take the threat of terrorism seriously.
Carnival-owned HAL has a current policy of penalizing its guests if they try and cancel an air excursion during the cruise. A couple arriving in Ketchican near the end of a cruise, seeing that the skies were overcast and visibility was poor, are faced with a penalty of the cost of the excursion (hundreds of dollars) if they thought it looked unsafe to fly.
This greedy policy, combined with HAL’s claim that it deferred to the air excursion company whether it was safe to fly in weather that even a child would feel is unsafe, placed the passengers in danger. Flying in Alaska is fraught with peril on the best appearing days, because it is by flight-vision-only in circumstances where the weather can change quickly and visibility can degrade without notice.
What were hesitant cruise passengers told? The fog will lift? Don’t worry. The weather will improve? This is the "misty fjords" excursion to see "misty" fjords after all?
Will HAL be forced to scrap this risky policy? Will guests be permitted to cancel without penalty? Will the cruise line cancel the flights when the weather is potentially dangerous and forego the money? Will the cruise lines appoint an independent ombudsman to prohibit excursions from flying when prudence demands caution?
If any changes are made, it will be only because 8 passengers lost their lives and the cruise line has to deal with the PR debacle, not because the cruise line is being proactive and prudent.
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June 30 2015 Update: Cruise Law News challenges Holland America ("All bush pilots and planes in Alaska are under more scrutiny now. And that’s a good thing. It should lead to better safety. But to make things that much better, we hope cruise lines think about Cruise Law News recommendations.")
Photo Credit: Becky Bohrer / AP