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As the sun sets on the European 2019 river cruise season, the major lines are breathing a huge sigh of relief. It’s been a relatively trouble-free seven months in Europe – a far cry from the big dry of last year, and the big wet of 2013.

None would have been more relieved than Scenic, the iconic Australian brand which has been at the forefront of the growth of river cruising here…and of the passenger backlash over how they are treated when water levels affected their holidays.

Scenic recently figured in an important legal tussle with its passengers over how they were treated when schedules were disrupted by conditions that made cruising difficult.

The Kelly's spent $37,000 on their Scenic cruise

The Kelly’s spent $37,000 on their Scenic cruise

As we reported in our last newsletter, Scenic last month lost an appeal in the NSW Court of appeal over compensation for 1,000 passengers affected by flooded rivers in Europe in 2013. The line is now potentially facing another lawsuit where at least 14 cruises in 2018 were allegedly affected by low water levels and where passengers claim they “didn’t get what they paid for.”

The issue is not the water levels.  It’s about what passengers were told about the water levels before they left Australia, and how they were treated once they arrived in Europe and discovered all was not what it seemed.

As climate change continues to cause chaos around the globe, there are important lessons here for all cruise passengers.

As the widely-read American travel trade cruise site Travel Weekly says:  “Regardless of the quality of accommodations a line provides when passengers are forced off ships, one thing the threatened suit again underscores is the importance of advance planning and communication by river lines about unpredictable water levels. Because no matter what they do, passengers are never going to be happy.”

It’s really about disclosure.  Lines like APT, Viking and others carry regular updates about water levels on their sites and tell booked passengers to keep an eye out for problems.

Scenic, after the 2013 problems, promised a guarantee which implied if things went wrong passengers would be compensated. If the new litigation happens, that will be contested in court.

Here’s what Scenic said on its website this week:

Staying true to our commitment of being all-inclusive, your Scenic cruise now included peace of mind river cruising coverage. On every Scenic river cruise you’ll be automatically covered once you commence your cruise for certain delays or cancellations that occur due to adverse weather conditions, natural disasters, mechanical breakdowns or strikes.

“We appreciate that you’ve invested a lot in your holiday with us and we want to ensure that we provide you with a level of cover when travelling with Scenic.”

But there are riders;

“If Your Scenic Tour is delayed or cancelled after you have commenced Your Scenic Tour and before you have disembarked and completed Your Scenic Tour due to:

  1. mechanical breakdown;
  2. riots;
  3. strikes;
  4. civil commotion;
  5. river or canal lock damage or closure;
  6. adverse weather conditions; or
  7. natural disasters;

“Depending on the level of Your Scenic Tour, You will be paid up to a maximum of $1,000 for each full 24 hour period from the start of the delay or cancellation up to a maximum of $7,000 (or seven (7) consecutive 24 hour periods) or the originally scheduled end date of Your Scenic Tour, whichever is the lesser.

Exclusions

“We will not pay for claims arising directly or indirectly from:

  1. Consequential loss of any kind including loss of enjoyment or any financial loss not specifically covered in the Policy;
  2. War, invasion, act of foreign enemy, hostilities (whether war be declared or not), Civil War, rebellion, revolution, insurrection or military or usurped power;
  3. any loss or expense with respect to Cuba or a specially designated person, entity, group or company on the Specially Designated List or which if reimbursed or paid by Us would result in Us being in breach of trade or economic sanctions or other such similar laws or regulations;
  4. any nuclear reaction or contamination, ionising rays or radioactivity;
  5. any Goods and Services Tax (GST) liability or any fine, charge or penalty You are liable for because of a failure to fully disclose to Us Your input tax credit entitlement for the premium;

“Examples of what is classed as a normal disruption and is therefore not covered:

  • If high water levels prohibit the sailing of the ship for an afternoon but we are able to make it under the bridge that evening and deliver you to your scheduled disembarkation place the following day.
  • If we swap ships due to high/low water and the ship swap takes less than 6 hours to complete
  • If we embark/disembark the ship less than 100 kilometres from your scheduled point of embarkation
  • If we have to make alternate arrangement for any itinerary activities. For example, if due to prevailing conditions we are not able to attend Marksburg Castle and we select a replacement of similar quality, this will not constitute an event of delay.”

Scenic launches new 2020 Europe itinerariesTravel Weekly says of the aftermath of the court case: “The good news is it seems there were lessons learned. This year, it appears at least some lines have become more transparent about disruptions and begun planning and notifying passengers further in advance of potential problems.

“For example, Viking, which was among those criticised for lack of warnings to passengers about low water last year, began notifying clients scheduled for October sailings about a temporary low spell on the upper Danube in September – even as plenty of rain was predicted and sailings were ultimately resumed fairly quickly.”

Scenic is an Aussie favourite and a line with a loyal following. It wouldn’t have that loyal following if it wasn’t very good at providing great holidays. For many years, the line won our Readers’ Choice award for best river cruise line.  We have cruised on their ships, and their food, service and shore activities are exemplary.

But today, the rivers of Europe and Asia comprise many competitors with different views on how to treat passengers when things go wrong.

In a statement, Scenic told Cruise Passenger: ”

“Scenic has significantly improved our communications and processes to ensure guests are more aware of extreme weather issues that may impact on river conditions and therefore more able to make an informed choice on their holiday.

This includes the establishment of our bespoke compensation through River Cruise Cover. River Cruise Cover provides automatic cover once guests have commenced a cruise against certain delays or cancellations that occur due to adverse weather conditions, natural disasters, mechanical breakdowns or strikes.

“We have no comment to make on the class action as it is still before the courts.”

Our advice: check exactly what your cruise line and insurer covers.  You are making a big investment – make sure it is safeguarded.

And choose a line that is transparent about conditions on the cruise you are about to embark on.

It’s a measure of how you are likely to be treated if things go wrong.