Carnival Splendor fire: How do you compensate unhappy clients?

With no air conditioning, hot running water, or hot food, passengers aboard the Carnival Splendor have been offered a refund and free future cruise. Is it enough for those who don't want a cruise?

Petty Officer 3rd Class Dylan McChord / US Navy / AP
This photo released by the U.S. Navy shows the Carnival Splendor, a cruise ship stranded about off the coast of Mexico on Nov. 9. The ship was 200 miles south of San Diego when an engine room fire cut its power early Monday, according to a statement from Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines.

Carnival advertises its cruise ship Splendor as the “largest ‘fun ship’ ever deployed on the West Coast.” But that fun ran out Monday when an engine fire incapacitated the ship just 14 hours into its seven-day cruise.

So as a cruise ship company, what do you offer your 3,299 customers who have gone more than two days with no air conditioning, electricity, hot running water, hot food service, or telephones, who have limited running water and bathroom facilities, and who are being towed back to port by tugboats at an average four miles per hour?

Carnival has promised a full refund for this trip, as well as a free future cruise of equal value.

What about passengers who swear off cruises – or at least Carnival – for life? Can they get something else, or even just transfer the cruise credit to a friend or relative?

“We can definitely look at this down the line,” said Carnival spokeswoman Joyce Oliva, “but right now, all we’re providing guests is a full refund … and transportation costs to get guests back home, including flights and hotel stays.”

This future free cruise is a fairly normal offer from cruise lines whose ships run into calamity, whether it's facing a hurricane or running aground, says Oivind Mathisen, editor for Cruise Industry News, an independent organization that has covered the cruise industry for the past 30 years. "Given the circumstances, they’re doing everything they should be doing."

But what about the passengers who don't want a free cruise?

"It doesn't happen," says Mr. Mathisen. "What happens is that once people go on a cruise, most people like it and they tend to want to repeat the experience. It is a tremendous value for money, and there's so much variety – there are big ships, little ships, you can to the Caribbean, Alaska, the Mediterranean – there's something out there for most of us. I have yet to find people who didn’t enjoy it."

The Splendor’s next cruise, scheduled to depart Sunday evening, has been canceled. Passengers scheduled to take that trip have received a full refund and a 25 percent discount on any future cruise.

"This year some 300 ships will carry more than 18 million passengers, and this has been the negative 'headline' for the industry – where no one got hurt and the crew put the fire out quite rapidly," Mathisen observes. "This is a very safe industry."

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