Government agency inundated with cruise refund complaints now considering rule change

BALTIMORE — During the COVID-19 pandemic, cruise lines have been ordered not to sail. Passenger trips have been canceled, but not all have been refunded. Many customers told WMAR-2 News that they had received credits.

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

“Each line had a different policy, so what we did was we worked with the Department for Transport and mirrored a lot of their refund policies, so we could standardize them across the board. “, said the federal commissioner for maritime affairs, Louis Sola.

Over the past 16 months, Commissioner Sola has investigated 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:

  • Reimburse consumers within 60 days if a cruise is canceled or delayed by 24 hours or more
  • If canceled or delayed for more than one day due to a government order, refunds must be paid within 180 days of a passenger’s request.
  • Passengers could request a refund at least six months after the planned trip

To learn more about the proposed rule, Click here.

The FCM is solicit feedback on this change until October 25. They will make adjustments and then hold a final vote. Three commissioners out of five are needed to pass the rule.

To submit comments, email [email protected] 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 searchable Microsoft Word or PDF document.

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

Fikri opted for a loan thinking that with the upcoming vaccines they would soon be able to travel, but a few months later her husband received news that would impact their plans.

“My husband had a pending deployment because he’s an active duty military,” Fikri said. “At that time, we called [Royal Caribbean] and said hey we would like instead of using the credit we would just like a refund. They said no, sorry, too late, you can’t refund that.

A few months later, his family experiences a new setback.

“My husband found out he was diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma and that was around the time he saw your story about the lady who had a similar situation with Royal Caribbean,” Fikri said.

RELATED: Family fights for cruise reimbursement after cancer diagnosis

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

“Now everything is stacked against us. My husband may be considering the end of the military and that would leave us financially uncertain and with lots of questions and it’s very scary for us and we have almost $3,000 sitting with Royal Caribbean that we can’t use” , Fikri said.

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

Fikri is pleased the company has changed its mind but wants to see better protections for all consumers.

The proposed rule would not help customers like Fikri with canceled cruises in the last 2 years, but it would create a new normal and change passenger ship law for the first time in over a hundred years.

“So now, as we move forward and start to sail again, I think this consumer confidence rule is key so that we never have to go through that again,” Sola said.

Commissioner Sola hopes the rule will be in place early next year.

FMC also handles consumer complaints. You can email them to [email protected]

Sofastaii has contacted the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the cruise industry’s trade association, about the proposed rule. In an email, a spokeswoman wrote, “CLIA is reviewing the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking with our members.”