Thu, 29 Nov, 2018
Don't get caught out: Stranded couple’s huge travel mistake on cruise
An elderly couple was kicked off a cruise ship and left to fend for themselves in South Korea over a simple but major error they made, costing them thousands of dollars.
Michelle Couch-Friedman from consumer rights company Elliott Advocacy advised everyone to learn from this lesson, as she failed to get the company to compensate the couple.
Originally from the US, William Coates and his wife had booked a 14-day getaway to Japan, South Korea and China with Holland America Line on the Westerdam cruise ship only last month.
“This is a trip we had planned for a long time. At 71 years old, we were looking forward to this adventure,” Mr Coates said, speaking to Elliott Advocacy.
After taking a flight to Japan and boarding the ship at Yokohama, the pair began their journey to South Korea.
Everything was running smoothly, until the third day of their voyage as a staff member revealed that the couple would be asked to leave the ship once it reached Pusan in South Korea.
They were told to pack up their things and leave, marking the start of their travel woes.
“She (the staff member) told us that it was our responsibility to get ourselves home. We couldn’t believe it,” said Mr Coates.
But the reason why was clear, as Mr and Mrs Coates had failed to acquire the necessary visas required to enter China before embarking on their cruise holiday.
Just like Australians, Americans must travel with the appropriate visas when visiting China and other entry points of the cruise.
And just as Aussies need visas when entering China, so do Americans, as authorities “strongly enforce penalties for entry and exit visa violations,” states the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
But according to Mr Coates, they were unaware of the rule until after they boarded the ship.
“Holland America removed us from the ship. They left us, literally on the dock,” he said.
“It was up to us to find our way to the airport and then pay $US2400 ($NZ3494) for additional airfare to get home.”
Holland America responded with its own side of the story, saying the company made an attempt to arrange emergency visas for the couple and had even got in touch with Chinese officials telling them the couple would not leave the ship once it stops in China.
“The Chinese border patrol rejected all of the alternatives,” said the cruise line company.
But Mr and Mrs Coates believe it was Holland America’s duty to inform them of any required visas.
“Getting thrown off the ship was the most embarrassing and difficult experience for us,” they told Elliott Advocacy.
“Our loss is approaching $US9000 ($NZ13,104). Holland America should have alerted us to our missing travel visa and the stringent requirements. No one did.
“We think that something this serious would be part of the travel professional’s responsibility.”
But Mrs Couch-Friedman said that claim is false, and if Holland America did fail to provide them with the appropriate information, then they may have won their case.
But in an itinerary sent by Holland America in January, the company had informed the Coates about visa requirements.
The terms and conditions read: “It is the guest’s sole responsibility to obtain and have available when necessary the appropriate valid travel documents. All guests are advised to check with their travel agent or the appropriate government authority to determine the necessary documents.
“You will be refused boarding or disembarked without liability for refund, payment, compensation, or credit of any kind if you do not have proper documentation, and you will be subject to any fine or other costs incurred by the carrier which result from improper documentation or noncompliance with applicable regulations, which amount may be charged to your stateroom account and/or credit card.”
Holland America also stated that prior to the cruise, the company had sent two extra alerts to the couple, reminding them to apply for their visas.
The Coates claim that they did not have a computer with them for the past few months so were unable to see those emails, but their argument was shut down and they were unable to win their case.
Mrs Couch-Friedman advised everyone who plans on travelling in the near future to read the terms and conditions and arrange your own visas.
“Before you set off on any cruise, it’s imperative to read the contract in its entirety,” she said.
“Remember that your entry requirements are unique to you, and it’s your responsibility to obtain all necessary documents.
“In the end, Holland America refunded the couple for their unused return airfare as a gesture of goodwill but declined any other refund.”
Arranging visas is the responsibility of the traveller and not their booking agent or travel company.
Do you think the Coates deserved a full refund? Let us know in the comments below.