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A vested interest

September 13, 2009|CATHARINE HAMM

Question: We recently returned from a Holland America cruise. Our 14-month-old granddaughter never received a proper-size life vest. At the safety drill, we told the crew. A few days later, we noticed it still was not replaced, and finally on the sixth day we asked again. We never received one. Why wouldn't we receive the proper vest?

Len Rothmann

Miami Beach


Answer: Cruise lines rarely want to endanger passengers. For one thing, it's bad for repeat business.

Why Holland America didn't respond -- not to his first, second and third requests and not to a letter that outlined the vest problem -- may have more to do with how information is communicated.

Holland America is a member of the Cruise Lines International Assn., which represents two dozen cruise lines in all sorts of matters, including, according to its website, "ensuring that the cruise industry provides a safe, healthy and secure ship environment for all passengers and crew." That passage also notes that it works closely with the U.S. Coast Guard to ensure those standards.

"You have to have the appropriate life jacket," said the Coast Guard's Lt. Cmdr. Michael Lingaitis, who has worked with cruise ships on safety. If Rothmann did not get satisfaction from the purser's office -- and he said he did not -- he should have elevated the complaint, Lingaitis said. He also could have contacted the Coast Guard in Boston, where the ship docked.

Holland America responded this way to my inquiries: "As is the proper procedure, we are pleased to know that in Mr. Rothmann's case his grandchild received an infant PFD [personal flotation device] but understand his concern that a larger PFD was not delivered. . . . Should the need have arisen during Mr. Rothmann's cruise, a better-fitting PFD would have been available at the muster station."

One would hope.

The underlying issue may be this: Rothmann had a litany of complaints about the cruise, from the quality of the pizza to being overcharged for in-room water to the life-jacket issue.

In the roll call of gripes, that last should have been the first thing Holland America addressed. It may not be able to have Domino's delivered at sea, but it should address passenger safety issues. My hunch is that it got lost in the din of Rothmann's other complaints.

Part of our job, as consumers, is to frame our dissatisfaction in a way that the most important point gets heard first. But if we don't do that, it's still the company's responsibility to deal with the most serious issues immediately. That's where the "service" in customer service comes in. Or, in this case, doesn't.


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