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Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience: July 2023 | Health

Revisiting Cruise Travel Insurance in the ""Post-Pandemic"" World of 2023

Francis H Morrison

Summary

  • Francis revisits cruise travel insurance in the post-pandemic era, underscoring the lingering risks of COVID-19 despite some easing of restrictions.
  • Francis emphasizes the need for thorough due diligence, compliance with cruise line protocols, and the value of comprehensive travel insurance coverage
Revisiting Cruise Travel Insurance in the ""Post-Pandemic"" World of 2023
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In November 2021, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I published a piece entitled, “The Reasons You Should Consider Travel Insurance,” in Voice of Experience. Cruising appears to be returning with a vengeance, with carriers welcoming unvaccinated, untested, and unmasked travelers. Recent public statements by the President and the World Health Organization (Wall St.J. May 6, 2013 at A-1, 4) declared that the COVID-19 health emergency has ended.

But the risk of COVID-19 associated with cruising may still be with us. The Centers for Disease Control (“cruising poses some risk of COVID transmission,” http://www.cdc.gov) and the Johns Hopkins Corona Virus Resource Center (“the pandemic is not over,” https://www.coronavirus.jhu.edu) both think so. This is despite both entities discontinuing respectively past the COVID-19 cruise line practices of color rating systems and data collection.

And, after a non-scientific search of a number of current passenger cruise agreements, it appears that whatever cruise lines might say in their warm “welcome backs!” to putative cruisers, their current COVID-19 respiratory-related protocols seem to contain substantial evidence that self-protection is important for passengers, but perhaps even more so for cruise carriers.

In support of my conclusion that having travel insurance remains equally, if not more, important today than mid-pandemic, I considered several contract provisions binding passengers, including: agreements to be bound by cruise line COVID-19 protocols and rules and acknowledgments of the risk and possible results of contracting COVID-19; possible consequences to passengers for violations of COVID-19 cruise-line rules; possible passenger responsibility for medical, transportation, and lodging costs associated with COVID-19 quarantine and treatment—in some cases costs in excess of insurance coverage; the availability of cruise-related insurance in our assumed post-pandemic time; and cruise line liability waivers for COVID injuries and losses. In sum, it appears that cruise line carriers have made efforts to limit situations where they may have liability for some or all of passengers’ COVID-19 expenses.

The Sine Qua Non: Factors Affecting Passenger Due Diligence

Because cruise line COVID-19 protocols, conduct rules and local travel restrictions (regarding testing, mask-wearing, and ability to go ashore or disembark if one has tested positive for COVID-19) can vary by ship and destination and are subject to change without notice, one must be very careful about generalities when seeking answers to questions in this area. My recommended due diligence process includes: careful study of your cruise agreement (including inconsistent or unclear provisions); review of the terms of any travel insurance being considered (e.g., some permit ill passengers to be “landed” where the carrier chooses—not where the passenger would prefer to go); review of the carrier website which is often expressly made integral with the cruise agreement (although disclaimers that website information may not be up-to-date or that the carrier is not responsible for passenger reliance on outdated information are not uncommon); speak with a carrier representative by phone or virtual video with your list of questions at hand (e.g., include the COVID-19 incidence record for the ship in question and whether or not the line reserves the right to disembark even passengers who have complied with all COVID-19 rules!); and seek out passengers who have had recent experiences with the cruise line handling COVID-19 issues (see also “Cruise Critic” at cruisecritic.com).

Passenger Obligations Regarding COVID-19 Practices and Protocols

Many cruise lines take the position that having purchased a ticket and embarked, passengers have expressly agreed to comply with guest COVID-19 (or other respiratory illness) practices and protocols.

Some common subjects of COVID-19 protocols may include: completion of an accurate, truthful, and complete health questionnaire containing any health or travel-related questions as determined by the carrier based on the advice of government, health authorities or medical experts; prompt reporting of illness to ship medical staff; use of technology-enabled contact tracing via wearable device technology (which may be able to identify late reporting of illness); modified capacity rules for activities (including restaurants, gyms, and entertainment events on board and for shore excursions) which may limit guest participation; mandatory use of face masks outside guest suites while on board, and during embarkation, disembarkation, and shore excursions; mandatory physical distancing under certain circumstances; confinement to guest suites, quarantine, or emergency disembarkation if in the sole discretion of the carrier such steps are necessary to limit, prevent, or slow the spread of COVID-19; and other policies and procedures deemed by the carrier in its discretion to be necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Some cruise contracts provide that even if a passenger has fully complied with the carrier’s protocols, practices, and procedures, but tests positive for COVID-19 or exhibits COVID symptoms, the carrier may disembark, refuse re-boarding after a shore excursion, or quarantine the passenger with some question about whether consequential travel expenses or lodging will be reimbursed by the carrier.

Consequences of Passenger Violations of Carrier COVID-19 Practices, Protocols, or Practices

The possibilities of passenger violation of contractual violations of COVID-19, even after apparent relaxation of pandemic restrictions include at least the following: refusal to adhere to a medical officer’s quarantine order; a violation of any of the carrier’s COVID-19 protocols, rules, or regulations; failure to meet the obligation and responsibility to seek medical assistance during the cruise (we saw passengers who were clearly sick but not quarantined); and finally, a passenger who in the opinion of the carrier, ship’s master, or member of the medical staff demonstrates the symptoms of COVID-19 or viral illness may be disembarked by the carrier without any further liability (i.e., medical care or treatment, repatriation, or transportation).

Some contractual language provides that “no-shows” and guests who fail to comply with COVID-19 cancellation procedures and policies shall not be entitled to a refund, future cruise credit, or compensation of any kind. And, a travel insurance carrier might try to deny coverage based on passenger non-compliance with COVID-19 ship protocols.

Some contractual provisions state directly that individuals who do not comply with health and safety requirements will be denied boarding or disembarked from the cruise. One needs to check carefully about the possible effect that boarding denial may have on contractual provisions for future cruise credits, transportation, or quarantine reimbursement.

While reliable data regarding the frequency of disembarkation of cruise passengers for violation of carrier COVID-19 protocols or regulations is difficult to find, it is noteworthy that in 2023, cruise agreements (apparently in effect) contain vigorous protocols and rules that are “on the books” to be enforced.

COVID-19 Cruise Medical Consultation and Treatment and Related Quarantine and Travel Expenses

I was unable to find any current cruise agreements that clearly provided shipboard or landed (due to disembarkation) medical, dental, or transportation expenses incurred because of COVID-19 was the responsibility of the cruise line (although some agreements refer to providing treatment and/or medication at the passenger’s expense). In fact, virtually every cruise contract provided that medical consultation or medication would be charged to the passenger’s account where provided.

And, virtually every cruise agreement recommended (or strongly recommended) that passengers obtain available travel insurance claimed to cover, up to specific limits, certain COVID-19 related medical and transportation expenses. One carrier required that passengers obtain substantial insurance coverage for travel cancellation, curtailment, and world-wide medical coverage for pre-existing conditions. The required coverage would include medical, repatriation, and emergency evacuation coverage. Interestingly, the agreement in question contained a separate provision to the effect that the passenger would be liable for repayment of medical, transportation, or repatriation (whether or not covered by the passenger’s insurance). This type of provision reflects the level of expense that could be involved in a helicopter evacuation.

In our own pre-pandemic cruising experience on two world cruises (where we purchased the carrier’s plan), it was not unusual that at each port stop a passenger(s) was disembarked for illness, natural death, and, in at least one circumstance, an accidental death. A number of those disembarkations took place in corners of the world where there was access to first-rate medical care or sensible air connections back to the United States.

Without health and travel insurance, passengers may be at the mercy of the cruise line to get competent care and/or repatriation home. In fact, some of the cruise agreements purport to try to deny control of on-board medical personnel apparently on the ground that the independent contractors were lacking.

Cruise Line COVID Liability Waivers

Virtually each of the cruise agreements, required to be executed by passengers as a condition to embark and sail, contained language waiving liability for a pandemic or epidemic. This is another reason to have travel insurance.

A True Story About Former Traveling Companions and Cruising With COVID-19.

A couple with whom we did a world cruise in 2018, completed a cruise in 2022 which demonstrated some of the difficulties associated with contracting COVID-19 while embarked. We think that they had travel insurance, but don’t know the terms.

They embarked a relocation cruise in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, bound for Civitavecchia, Italy (the port for Rome). The husband became ill in transit and tested positive for COVID-19. They were convinced he contracted it on the ship because they knew of others who were ill but did not report it to the medical staff. He was separated from his wife and placed in a quarantine cabin somewhere in the lower regions of the ship, from which he was forbidden to venture out. His food was brought to him. His wife was permitted to stay in their cabin, but her opportunities to venture out on deck or eat in the ship’s restaurants were limited.

Eventually, the wife became ill with COVID-19 and was placed in quarantine. Italy was one of those countries where passengers with COVID-19 were not permitted to go ashore, so in order to stay together, the couple stayed on the ship in Civitavecchia and then took the next cruise,(during which they both occupied a cabin together without quarantine until the wife tested negative for COVID-19). At the end of the second cruise, the cruise line provided them with certification that they had COVID-19 and were now testing negative and a-symptomatic. That was important, because this was at a stage of the pandemic when such certification was required to re-enter the United States.

The cruise line didn’t charge the couple for either of their quarantine times, for the “extra cruise” or their on-board medical consultation or medications. Their travel insurance policy saved them a lot of cash. But without the coverage, they would have been at the mercy of others… and, their cruise agreement likely contained a provision to the effect that medical consultation and treatment, including medications, would be charged to the passenger.

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