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‘P&O cruise was hell after my wheelchair broke – and no one seemed to care’

P&O Cruise Barbados
P&O Cruise Barbados

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Dear Katie,

I am quite severely disabled with primary progressive multiple sclerosis, which means I can walk no more than a few metres at a time. However, I refuse to let my illness stop me enjoying my life so I decided to book a P&O cruise to Barbados, which was supposed to be fully wheelchair friendly.

I rode my electric power wheelchair up to the gates at Birmingham Airport and was assisted on to the plane. My chair was placed in the hold, and I was told I’d be reunited with it again once I had been transported by coach and was boarding the ship.

However, at some point in the journey, my wheelchair was severely damaged, rendering it unusable. Over the next few days, I was told a variety of stories about how it had happened.

I thought I was going to get the chair back that same day, but someone came to tell me it was being fixed. P&O provided me with a manual wheelchair which was extremely uncomfortable and did not accommodate my complex medical needs. It also meant my travel companion had to push me everywhere, which made me feel like a burden.

Five days later, someone brought me my wheelchair, which was still broken and unusable. It had been damaged beyond repair. P&O’s customer services reps suggested they could take me to a wheelchair shop in the port where I could purchase a new one.

I was aghast at this suggestion. The chair cost nearly £5,000 new and it had been damaged through no fault of my own. When I said I couldn’t afford to just spend £5,000 on new wheelchairs willy nilly, one member of staff had the audacity to suggest I buy a “cheap scooter” instead. I felt these sorts of comments were entirely inappropriate.

After a week, my travel companion and I were finding the cruise more of an ordeal than a joy, so we decided to disembark and fly home. P&O covered the flights, but we had to foot a £240 taxi bill ourselves because the only flight available was to an airport in another part of the UK.

I’m now at home with no means of getting around as I live alone and, nearly a month later, P&O has still got my wheelchair. I would really appreciate your help in trying to get a resolution to this ongoing nightmare.

– MC, via email 

Dear reader,

Multiple sclerosis is a dreadful disease which can cause sufferers a great deal of pain and difficulty in leading a normal life. Given this, I felt your determination to go on holiday and enjoy yourself was extremely admirable, so I was really sorry to hear that this cruise, for which you and your travel companion paid £4,658, had turned into a complete disaster.

I agreed to investigate on your behalf and established that your wheelchair was damaged as a result of it being incorrectly loaded and secured on to the vehicle that was transporting it to the ship. Apparently, this was done by airport staff, rather than the transport company which was subcontracted by P&O.

Although this seemed to be P&O shifting the blame away from itself and on to airport staff, this actually meant you are entitled to more compensation for the wheelchair. This is because under a rule called the Montreal Convention, you are covered for luggage that’s damaged in the air or by airport staff up to the value of £1,360.

On the other hand, P&O’s terms and conditions state that it will only pay up to £500 for items damaged while in its care. This is why it’s so important to get travel insurance.

Unfortunately, although you did have travel insurance, you failed to secure adequate travel insurance specifically for the wheelchair ahead of the trip, meaning you didn’t have a proper financial fallback. You now regret this, as the wheelchair cost nearly £5,000 new, and P&O is under no obligation to buy you a new one.

Following my involvement, it agreed to compensate you £1,360, which is the most it could under the Montreal Convention.

None of this changed the fact that the handling of your situation by P&O had been undeniably poor. Some of the flippant comments and intrusive questions into your finances by staff were seriously beyond the pale. So I asked P&O to refund your £4,658 cruise in full, refund the £240 taxi ride as well as half the £1,500 drinks package you never got to enjoy as a result of leaving the cruise early.

Happily it agreed, and added £500 credit to another cruise you have booked for March as a further “gesture of goodwill”. It has also offered to cover seven days’ hire of a power chair for you to use at home. You’re happy with this and have accepted the offer.

Although having adequate travel insurance for your power chair wouldn’t have changed your poor experience on this cruise, it would have better protected you against financial loss, so next time please don’t take the risk.

A spokesman from P&O Cruises said: “We are very sorry this happened but would recommend that all guests take adequate insurance prior to travel as per our booking conditions. We are pleased we have resolved this for Mr C and look forward to welcoming him back on board.”

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