Unvaccinated might have to settle for FCCs

Mark Pestronk

Q: In your Aug. 16, 2021, Legal Briefs column, “Protect yourself from changing vax rules,” you addressed the issue of our agency’s liability for changes to cruise lines’ vaccination policies. Since then, many cruise lines have announced a policy requiring that everybody (or those over a certain age) be vaccinated. One of my clients cannot get his second shot, per his doctor’s note, because he went into anaphylactic shock after the first shot. We have asked the cruise line for a refund, but all they offer is a future cruise credit (FCC). The client does not want a credit because he never wants to cruise again. Shouldn’t the cruise lines be legally obligated to make refunds when they change their boarding conditions, like they did here, if people cannot get vaccinated? What can we do to help this client?

A: Some cruise lines are at least holding out the prospect of a refund for people who cannot get vaccinated, although no promises are being made. For example, Carnival states, “If you would like to rebook for a later date or request a refund, please contact us at 1-800-CARNIVAL, your Carnival Personal Vacation Planner or your travel agent.” Viking is equally noncommittal: “Guests who have already booked a reservation prior to the adoption of this policy and who object to being vaccinated are encouraged to contact Viking to discuss refund or future cruise credit options.”

Multiple trade press articles indicate that Royal Caribbean International is offering refunds to unvaccinated travelers, but I could not find such a commitment on its website. Instead, if a guest cannot get vaccinated, the website states, “Please contact our Access Department … so that our team can guide you on what documents will need to be submitted for consideration.”

On the other hand, Norwegian Cruise Line and its sister brands, Regent Seven Seas and Oceania, offer neither FCC nor refund options for unvaccinated travelers, with no exceptions that I could find. 

Related: From the Window Seat: The case for 100% vaccinated cruises

Whether a guest can legally compel the cruise line to make a refund depends on the line’s passenger contract as well as the terms of any FCC that the client may have previously accepted. Each line’s contract is different, as are the terms of each line’s FCC.

The best you can do is to review those documents and see if you can find a reason for claiming that the line breached its contract with your client. My guess is that the terms of the FCC state that, by accepting it, you give up your right to a refund under all circumstances.

If you can find something helpful, then a formal business letter from your agency may result in a refund. Your client probably cannot sue unless he can file the suit in the city and state designated as the exclusive forum in the passenger contract.

Regardless of your client’s legal rights, I think it is certainly unfair for any cruise line to refuse to make a refund (rather than issue an FCC) to someone whose medical condition prevents vaccination. 

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