When Jerry Leonard and his wife transfer from their cruise ship to a train, they give Princess their luggage, which includes a bottle of Cognac. The luggage is lost and later found, but the cruise line confiscates the Cognac. Should it replace the bottle -- or is he out of luck?
Q: We have a somewhat unusual case we need help with. My wife and I went on a Princess Cruises cruise/train tour of Alaska last fall.
The night before we disembarked the ship we were instructed to place all of our belongings outside our cabin door for transfer to Fairbanks. But when we arrived in Fairbanks, the box with numerous souvenirs and clothing was missing. Four days later our box was found, but a Princess representative told us that the bottle of Cognac could not be sent. We were given numerous reasons why they could not mail the bottle. They opened the box and removed the Cognac and returned everything else to us.
We wrote to Princess asking for replacement or a check for the value. Princess sent us a form letter reply, saying they were not responsible for liquor. In my opinion, they are responsible. They admittedly had the Cognac in their possession and would not return it to us, nor would they pay for it. What do you think? -- Jerry Leonard, Richardson, Texas
A: I think Princess owes you a bottle of Cognac.
The cruise line's responsibility is spelled out under its passage contract, http://www.princess.com/legal/passage_contract/index.jsp which is available on its website. As I read paragraph 14, which covers liability for baggage and personal effects, Princess won't cover "any tools of trade, household goods, fragile or valuable items, precious metals, jewelry, documents, negotiable instruments or other valuables." That may or may not include alcoholic beverages.
The cruise line should have told you that it wouldn't take responsibility for your Cognac. That would have given you the opportunity to carry the bottle with you rather than checking it.
I find it odd that Princess tracked down your property, took the time to rifle through it, and then confiscated the Cognac. What were they thinking? Maybe they believed Alaska state law prohibited them from sending your Cognac back to Texas. Even if that were true, Princess should have tried to replace the bottle. A modest shipboard credit for your next cruise might have done the trick.
Next time you're asked to give up your belongings, consider taking a quick inventory of what you're checking in. It helps to know what the cruise line covers (printing out a copy of the cruise contract isn't a bad idea) but pay close attention to vague statements, like "other valuables." You might decide to repack, based on what you do -- or don't -- know about your cruise line's liability.
I contacted Princess on your behalf. The company reviewed your file and found that there was "some miscommunication" between you and the cruise line. It reimbursed you $143, which covers the loss of your Cognac.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the host of "What You Get For The Money: Vacations" on the Fine Living Network. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) 2008 Christopher Elliott Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.