We can’t make this stuff up. This week we have two news stories in two days about couples being put off their cruise ships, and not for medical emergencies or for breaking the law. No, these couples made the mistake of saying “jump.” The first was an elderly couple from the U.K. on a Royal Caribbean ship. The second couple was from Ohio, also on a Royal Caribbean ship.
In a nutshell, the UK couple were first time cruisers and unhappy with how their complaints were not resolved satisfactorily. Then came the fateful mistake. He told a maitre d’ in the restaurant that he wanted to ‘jump ship’ at the port of call. The phrase ‘to jump ship’ means to bail out, quit, leave, run away. The maître d’ obviously interpreted the phrase differently, thinking the gentleman was threatening to jump overboard. The resulting response was to put the couple on a suicide watch, and put them off the ship in the next port.
In the Ohio couple’s case, the wife made a sarcastic remark, jokingly saying it would be cheaper to get home by jumping overboard and hitching a ride back to the Jersey shore with a dolphin. She actually mentioned jumping overboard. And the result was roughly the same; put on a suicide watch and put off the ship in the next port.
It is safe to say that these days cruise lines won’t take lightly any comments made that can be construed as threatening to jump overboard. When someone does jump overboard, not only does it get a lot of media coverage resulting in bad PR, but it disrupts the cruise for the other passengers, and may cost the cruise line a hefty sum of money. For crew members to ignore a passenger’s comment about jumping overboard would be irresponsible on their part, at the very least. Could you imagine if someone said they wanted to jump overboard, it was heard by a crew member, no action was taken, and the passenger then actually jumped? The lawyers would have a field day with that in court.
So we can’t blame the cruise lines for having procedures in place to react when an employee hears a passenger talk about jumping overboard. However, there might be an opportunity for better training; to understand when a passenger is being facetious, when a comment means something else (like the phrase “jumping ship”), versus when it’s a real threat to jump overboard.
In the instance of the UK couple, it is possible the maître d’ may not have understood the nuance of the phrase “jumping ship.” In the Ohio couple’s case however, there was no misinterpretation: she talked about jumping overboard, even if it was a sarcastic response to the situation she was in.
So as travel professionals, how can this affect us? Without talking to an attorney, I’m not 100% sure at this point. However, it might not be a bad idea to have discussions with our cruise clients. Just like it’s not a good idea to say “Hi” to your friend Jack across a crowded airport, you don’t want to say or allude to jumping overboard on a cruise ship. I’ve already broached this topic with my worst client (my husband). His sense of humor already escapes some people. He travels a lot for work, so he knows not to let loose with the sarcastic biting wit he calls humor whenever he’s in an airport. No one working in an airport after 9/11 has a sense of humor any more. This week, I told him to extend that policy to cruise ships and to never mention jumping (not evening jumping rope) while on a ship, because if he gets put off in port, I’m not going with him.
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel (www.shipsntripstravel.com) located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations (www.kickbuttvacations.com), she focuses on travel for 18 to 23-year-olds. Susan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 221-1209.