Lee Bolland and his wife, who live in France, were set to take a seven-day cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Epic in early September.
The couple were careful to check the Covid-related admin around the trip, which included proof of a complete course of a Covid-19 vaccine, before travelling to Barcelona to take the cruise.
“We were really looking forward to this trip,” Bolland told Elliott Advocacy, which helped him challenge the cruise line’s decision. “We were aware that we needed to be vaccinated against Covid and to have a negative Covid test.”
But when they arrived at Barcelona’s port, the couple met a frosty reception.
“We dropped off our luggage and then went into the pre-cruise Covid testing tent,” Bolland says. “But right away, it was clear something was wrong. The staff was treating us differently.”
A Norwegian Cruise Line employee approached him saying there was a problem: “She said I was being denied boarding the cruise. I couldn’t imagine why. I had everything I needed,” says Bolland.
“Then the NCL agent told me that I wasn’t fully vaccinated against Covid.
“I showed her my vaccination information from my doctor. But she had made up her mind.
“This lady then motioned to her colleagues, pointed to us, and said, ‘Let’s get them out of here quickly.’”
To make matters worse, Norwegian would not offer the Bollands a refund, as it claimed Mr Bolland had failed to comply with the rules outlined ahead of the cruise, including that passengers had to have a full course of a Covid-19 vaccine.
“While we understand your frustration and that you were unable to enjoy your cruise, regrettably, we are not offering any compensation or refund in this regard. Please contact your insurance provider for further advice,” Norwegian wrote to the Bollands.
The problem, it emerged, was that Mr Bolland had had just one vaccination dose.
However, Mr Bolland maintains that he was “fully vaccinated” as per the rules in France.
France has an unusual vaccine protocol that has not been endorsed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) - it maintains that someone who has recovered from Covid should only receive one dose of Pfizer, after which they are recognised as fully vaccinated.
It is the first country to take this approach, with its Haute Autorité de Santé (HAS) saying, “The single vaccine dose will thus play the role of a booster”.
In 2020, Bolland had contracted Covid and recovered - then, in June of this year, he received one dose of Pfizer, after which his doctor gave him a health certificate that indicated Bolland’s vaccine course was “complete.”
“As per the French government’s policy regarding vaccination [I was fully vaccinated],” Bolland told NCL at the time.
However, Norwegian is clear that it is a passenger’s responsibility to check its health rules before travel, and that two doses of a vaccine are required.
“Each guest must present proof that they have completed the full cycle of required doses for the vaccine administered at least two weeks before their sail date,” read the Norwegian website two days before the Bollands’ sail date.
“Your home country does not make the documentation rules for other countries or the cruise line,” Elliott Advocacy warns of this grey area.
The Bollands challenged the case, saying that NCL had updated its wording to clarify rules around France’s unusual one-dose policy after they were refused boarding, but that it had not been clear prior to this.
Ultimately, NCL held firm and did not offer the couple a refund, saying that its rules had always been clear that “vaccination protocols must be recognised by the WHO or EMA (European Medicine Agency)”.
“I was told by a qualified healthcare provider that I had completed my vaccine cycle,” says Lee Bolland.
“Why would I have questioned that? And how can NCL take my money and give me nothing in return? I will continue to fight this battle.”
A spokesperson for Norwegian Cruise Lines said: “The safety of our guests, crew and communities we visit remains our highest priority. In April 2021, we announced our Sail Safe Health and Safety programme, our science-based and comprehensive health and safety plan to resume cruising.
“As part of this, all guests and crew on board must be 100% fully vaccinated (two doses) to provide a healthy holiday experience. We commit to keeping guests apprised of our policies which are clearly communicated via various channels, including our website.
“We continue to closely monitor the evolving situation and will keep our guests informed at all times.”
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