Lawmakers criticize cruise lines over coronavirus refunds

Many companies have opted to give credits to passengers for a future cruise rather than cash refunds

Medical personnel helped load passengers onto buses as they disembarked from the Grand Princess cruise ship in Oakland, California earlier this year. (Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)
Medical personnel helped load passengers onto buses as they disembarked from the Grand Princess cruise ship in Oakland, California earlier this year. (Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)
Posted March 10, 2020 at 3:51pm

Any stimulus bill passed by Congress in the wake of coronavirus should include relief for would-be cruise ship passengers who have not received refunds for cruises bought before the crisis,  a House Ways and Means subcommittee chairman said Tuesday.

“You’ve got people, just working class people who have saved for years to take their family on a cruise and this happens and they’re either out the money or run the risk of exposure,” said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., chairman of the Select Revenue Measures Subcommittee. “That’s wrong. We need to deal with that. These cruise ship lines cannot hold passengers and their money hostage because of a disease or an outbreak that’s out of everyone’s control.”

While many cruise ship companies have changed or loosened their traditionally strict cancellation policies, many have opted to give credits to passengers for a future cruise rather than cash refunds. 

Carnival Cruise Line customers, for example, can postpone any trip scheduled between now and May 31 without penalty and receive a future cruise credit.  Norwegian Cruise Line is also waiving cancellation penalties for passengers booked to travel through Sept. 30 who cancel up to 48 hours before departure. They, too, receive a cruise credit for future use.  Royal Caribbean has similar policies. 

And Princess Cruises, which saw cruises in Japan and California quarantined after outbreaks on their ships, also offers credit for future cruises as well as a $100 credit for those on three- and four- day cruises who choose to keep their booking as currently scheduled.

Thompson’s comments come just days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State Department took the rare step of urging U.S. citizens — particularly those with underlying health conditions — to avoid travel by cruise ship.

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Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was even more blunt, telling NBC viewers Sunday, “Above all, don’t get on a cruise ship.”

According to the Cruise Lines International Association, some 32 million people were projected to take cruises this year, up from a projected 30 million last year. U.S. ports boarded 11.4 million people on cruises in 2018, according to the American Association of Port Authorities. Stock prices for major cruise lines have plummeted in the wake of the outbreak. 

Passengers who are refused admission to cruises because they’ve recently traveled to areas under travel restriction because of the disease, such as China, or passengers who do not pass health screening tests typically receive refunds or credit for future cruises. 

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said the government has not made it easy for the cruise industry.

She said she was concerned that the Florida Department of Health “does not appear to be notifying the cruise lines and having them communicate with the passengers on the ships” where people who have tested positive for the virus worked.

She said she was “outraged,” because the department doesn't "appear to be taking this seriously and trying to get to the bottom of where the coronavirus was contracted from, making sure the cruise line is notified."

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Rep. Donna E. Shalala, D-Fla., whose district is home to Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian cruise lines, said she is worried about the long-term impact on the cruise industry. About 150,000 people are employed by the cruise industry in her district.

She said despite the impact, the cruise industry has not made any specific asks for federal help to deal with the crisis.

“They’re doing day to day,” she said. “And this is an industry that’s worked long very hard on infectious disease because there are outbreaks when you’re in tight quarters.” 

Del. Stacey Plaskett, D-V.I., said her district has been heavily hit because it’s a center for the cruise ship industry. “Cruise ships are no longer coming,” she said.

Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.