Handicapped put off ship

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My wife and I were passengers on a River Explorer cruise, beginning in Bucharest on Sept. 1, ’04, and scheduled to end in Amsterdam on Sept. 25, with Vantage Deluxe World Travel. Halfway through the trip, when the ship arrived in Vienna late on Sept. 13, we were told to leave the ship early the next day. When I asked why, the Vantage tour guide and the captain only said that my wife was slow and they were afraid she would fall.

We had paid the entire charge for the cruise to Vantage in April: $4,599 each plus $339 each for Trip Mate insurance and $318 each for port charges, etc., for a total of what turned out to be $10,571. We bought our own coach plane tickets, using frequent-flyer coupons for an upgrade on all flights to business/first. However, we had to return on coach, since Continental said they require 72 hours’ notice to use upgrade certificates.

When I made the reservations in April, I told the Vantage agent that my wife was handicapped and asked if there was an elevator on the ship. The agent said there was and there would be no problem. (My wife fell in Siberia in 2003 and since then she always uses a walker.)

In July I asked Vantage for the loan of a wheelchair, as we had used on our two sea cruises in January and February ’04. The agent said no wheelchairs or walkers were permitted on their ships. I said the applicable laws require that they make a reasonable accommodation for the handicapped. Later, a Vantage agent said we could take a walker but no wheelchair.

My wife and I had made a delightful river trip with Viking from Amsterdam to Budapest in 2002, but our friends signed up early with Vantage for the September ’04 cruise and we wanted to travel with them.

We knew that my wife would be unable to go on the shore excursions that require considerable walking. Each morning I asked our tour guide whether she thought my wife should go on the day’s excursion, and we always followed her recommendation, sometimes to go, sometimes for her to stay on the ship.

My wife has never fallen with the walker, except on Sept. 5 when she was knocked down by another handicapped passenger who fell when they were waiting for the ship’s elevator. My wife bruised her head. The other passenger who fell was hustled off the ship soon.

Soon after we arrived home on Sept. 14, I sent a letter to Vantage summarizing the facts and asking for a partial refund. Vantage has never answered my two letters, nor has anyone from Vantage returned my five phone calls.

My wife and I speak five languages and we have traveled independently in more than 150 countries. We have also traveled in additional countries in tour groups and on more than 20 ships on both rivers and seas. We have had many adventures but before this trip were never treated badly by a tour company or cruise company.

WESLEY M. WILSON
Olympia, WA

ITN sent a copy of the above letter to Vantage Deluxe World Travel (90 Canal St., Boston, MA 02114) and received a reply from Heather Gallo, Post-Trip Quality Division, saying, “While Vantage does own the riverboat, it is a European-flagged ship. European ships are not held to handicap laws as the United States is. Wheelchair accessibility is not a required provision and most times (is) not available. Because of this, with the degree of Mrs. Wilson’s disability, the decision was made to have Mr. and Mrs. Wilson removed from the tour to avoid possible injury. At this time, the Wilsons’ file is with our Legal Department. . . Settlement is currently pending.”

ITN then received comments from Mr. Wilson stating that Vantage had made a proposal to send him $3,623.20. Their offer was based upon the following calculations: 13 days used of a 25-day trip or 13/25 x $10,571 or 52% of $10,571 = $5,497. This amount subtracted from the total of $10,571 left $5,074, the value of the unused part of the trip, owed by Vantage to the Wilsons.

From that $5,074, Vantage wanted to deduct $400 advanced to the Wilsons for changing the date of their Amsterdam-Seattle tickets as well as another $1,050.80, the cost of the Wilsons’ Vienna-Amsterdam tickets, for a net refund of $3,623.20.

Mr. Wilson counter-offered to settle for $4,985. He told ITN, “My counter-offer accepted the basic $5,497 used and $5,074 unused less the $400 advanced to us, leaving $4,674 owed to us. However, Vantage had our $4,674 from April through December, eight months, and I get about 10% from many of my investments — that’s about $311 in interest — so $4,674 + $311 = $4,985. I also explained to Vantage why I objected to their proposal to charge us $1,050.80 for plane tickets from Vienna to Amsterdam. I also told Vantage the alternative was litigation. The Boston Better Business Bureau and the Boston Globe ombudsman also apparently put pressure on Vantage.”

He added, “I was able to persuade a sympathetic Continental Airlines supervisor in Amsterdam to waive the usual $400 change-of-date fee (for two tickets), but she would not let us use our upgrade certificates.

“This matter was settled by the payment of a refund to us of $4,985 by Vantage.”

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

My wife and I were passengers on a River Explorer cruise, beginning in Bucharest on Sept. 1, ’04, and scheduled to end in Amsterdam on Sept. 25, with Vantage Deluxe World Travel. Halfway through the trip, when the ship arrived in Vienna late on Sept. 13, we were told to leave the ship early the next day. When I asked why, the Vantage tour guide and the captain only said that my wife was slow and they were afraid she would fall.

We had paid the entire charge for the cruise to Vantage in April: $4,599 each plus $339 each for Trip Mate insurance and $318 each for port charges, etc., for a total of what turned out to be $10,571. We bought our own coach plane tickets, using frequent-flyer coupons for an upgrade on all flights to business/first. However, we had to return on coach, since Continental said they require 72 hours’ notice to use upgrade certificates.

When I made the reservations in April, I told the Vantage agent that my wife was handicapped and asked if there was an elevator on the ship. The agent said there was and there would be no problem. (My wife fell in Siberia in 2003 and since then she always uses a walker.)

In July I asked Vantage for the loan of a wheelchair, as we had used on our two sea cruises in January and February ’04. The agent said no wheelchairs or walkers were permitted on their ships. I said the applicable laws require that they make a reasonable accommodation for the handicapped. Later, a Vantage agent said we could take a walker but no wheelchair.

My wife and I had made a delightful river trip with Viking from Amsterdam to Budapest in 2002, but our friends signed up early with Vantage for the September ’04 cruise and we wanted to travel with them.

We knew that my wife would be unable to go on the shore excursions that require considerable walking. Each morning I asked our tour guide whether she thought my wife should go on the day’s excursion, and we always followed her recommendation, sometimes to go, sometimes for her to stay on the ship.

My wife has never fallen with the walker, except on Sept. 5 when she was knocked down by another handicapped passenger who fell when they were waiting for the ship’s elevator. My wife bruised her head. The other passenger who fell was hustled off the ship soon.

Soon after we arrived home on Sept. 14, I sent a letter to Vantage summarizing the facts and asking for a partial refund. Vantage has never answered my two letters, nor has anyone from Vantage returned my five phone calls.

My wife and I speak five languages and we have traveled independently in more than 150 countries. We have also traveled in additional countries in tour groups and on more than 20 ships on both rivers and seas. We have had many adventures but before this trip were never treated badly by a tour company or cruise company.

WESLEY M. WILSON
Olympia, WA

ITN sent a copy of the above letter to Vantage Deluxe World Travel (90 Canal St., Boston, MA 02114) and received a reply from Heather Gallo, Post-Trip Quality Division, saying, “While Vantage does own the riverboat, it is a European-flagged ship. European ships are not held to handicap laws as the United States is. Wheelchair accessibility is not a required provision and most times (is) not available. Because of this, with the degree of Mrs. Wilson’s disability, the decision was made to have Mr. and Mrs. Wilson removed from the tour to avoid possible injury. At this time, the Wilsons’ file is with our Legal Department. . . Settlement is currently pending.”

ITN then received comments from Mr. Wilson stating that Vantage had made a proposal to send him $3,623.20. Their offer was based upon the following calculations: 13 days used of a 25-day trip or 13/25 x $10,571 or 52% of $10,571 = $5,497. This amount subtracted from the total of $10,571 left $5,074, the value of the unused part of the trip, owed by Vantage to the Wilsons.

From that $5,074, Vantage wanted to deduct $400 advanced to the Wilsons for changing the date of their Amsterdam-Seattle tickets as well as another $1,050.80, the cost of the Wilsons’ Vienna-Amsterdam tickets, for a net refund of $3,623.20.

Mr. Wilson counter-offered to settle for $4,985. He told ITN, “My counter-offer accepted the basic $5,497 used and $5,074 unused less the $400 advanced to us, leaving $4,674 owed to us. However, Vantage had our $4,674 from April through December, eight months, and I get about 10% from many of my investments — that’s about $311 in interest — so $4,674 + $311 = $4,985. I also explained to Vantage why I objected to their proposal to charge us $1,050.80 for plane tickets from Vienna to Amsterdam. I also told Vantage the alternative was litigation. The Boston Better Business Bureau and the Boston Globe ombudsman also apparently put pressure on Vantage.”

He added, “I was able to persuade a sympathetic Continental Airlines supervisor in Amsterdam to waive the usual $400 change-of-date fee (for two tickets), but she would not let us use our upgrade certificates.

“This matter was settled by the payment of a refund to us of $4,985 by Vantage.”