Dear Tripped Up,
Our family home in The Bahamas was recently destroyed by Hurricane Dorian. Nobody lost their lives, but the physical damage was catastrophic and the emotional trauma is ongoing. I am writing on behalf of my parents, who live there full time.
Our family was scheduled to go on a trip of a lifetime and sail the Baltic Sea with Norwegian Cruise Line, but now those funds are needed to begin rebuilding. I have written to Norwegian and CheapCruises.com (where we purchased five cruise fares in full) asking for a refund. So far, my request has been denied.
When I received your email, on Sept. 15, American media reports about Dorian had subsided. By that point, the rain-slicked TV anchors had turned their cameras toward the next storm.
But your story has stayed with me. When I spoke with your mother by phone a couple of months ago, I learned that your parents waited out the storm in their cellar until the home they “thought had been built so well,” as she described it, finally gave way.
“We had just gotten to a place where we could afford to take a family trip like that — it was all out-of-pocket,” she said. “The money would go a long way on the house, and I just couldn’t be taking the money and going on vacation. It’s a huge blowback.”
That’s the thing that many of us — myself included — can’t always grasp when we see imagery of natural disasters from afar: Hurricanes tear through brick, wood and concrete just as forcefully as they tear through whatever life activities are afoot, from retirement plans to vacation plans.
The travel industry is generally very good at bolstering relief efforts after hurricanes and other natural disasters, especially in markets like The Bahamas, where tourism accounts for 60 percent of the country’s G.D.P. Through its fund-raising arm, Baha Mar, a $4.2 billion resort development, has raised more than $2.5 million for Dorian relief. Royal Caribbean has spent more than $4.6 million on relief efforts so far; following the storm, the company diverted five ships to deliver 20,000 meals a day to Grand Bahama. And through a partnership with All Hands and Hearts, a natural-disaster-relief nonprofit, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., the cruise line’s parent company, has committed $2 million to cleaning up debris and rebuilding schools and houses.
That’s why I found Norwegian’s terse response to my email such a head-scratcher: “This situation has been resolved — and we believe everyone is happy. We don’t have a statement to share publicly, but thank you for giving us an opportunity to comment.” When I pressed further, the company declined to elaborate.
However, CheapCruises.com, the online travel agency where your parents purchased their cruise tickets, was shrouded in no such secrecy. The company confirmed that Norwegian refunded your family in full: more than $14,100, including onboard amenities. CheapOair, where your family purchased nearly $3,200 in plane tickets, has also managed to wrestle refunds from the airlines. Every company involved in your case bent its (usually very strict) cancellation policies in your favor. My hunch is that Norwegian was so tight-lipped because it doesn’t want to be bombarded with refund requests — despite the nice press about doing good.
Your story calls to mind one other question that I think many readers will wonder: Would travel insurance have helped?
It’s hard to imagine having the foresight to buy travel insurance for precisely this reason, but the short answer: Yes. In general, various travel insurance policies across the industry, from Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection to Norwegian’s own BookSafe Travel Protection, provide coverage when your primary residence is rendered uninhabitable in a natural disaster.
Your GoFundMe page shows piles of tarp-covered lumber awaiting their fate: a frame for a new house. Hopefully the recouped funds will help accelerate those efforts and help you rebuild. And hopefully, at some point down the line, you’ll find yourselves well-positioned to take that long-awaited family vacation.
The Dec. 8 edition of Tripped Up, about a woman with severe apple allergies who was denied boarding on an Emirates flight, roused reader reactions of all stripes. Andy wrote, “Sorry, if you can’t be in a generalized public situation, maybe you don’t get to fly! 200+ additional people can’t be held hostage to you proclivities. If I had [allergies], the ‘citizen’ in me would find some other means of travel before I’d expect to screw a plane load of people!”
Sarah Firshein formerly held staff positions at Travel + Leisure and Vox Media, and has also contributed to Condé Nast Traveler, Bloomberg, Eater and other publications. If you need advice about a best-laid travel plan that went awry, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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