7 Sep 2012

U-turn after deaf passengers denied cruise break

From buses to planes and now boats – No Go Britain hears of a deaf couple who were initially refused access to a cruise holiday. The company has since backed down after a campaign by the couple’s son.

U-turn after deaf passengers denied cruise break (Getty)

All Paul Harrison’s parents, Karen and Peter, wanted was a quiet cruise holiday around Turkey and Greece.

But there was a problem, at least for the cruise operator, Thomson Cruises. The couple are deaf. When Karen Harrison notified Thomson of this a week before the cruise was due to sail, to help the company prepare any special assistance, they were told they would be unable to travel unless they had a hearing assistant with them.

“Regrettably, we will have no option but to refuse yourself and Mrs Harrison boarding of our vessel if you are unable to travel with at least one other person who is able to hear alarm signals and announcements and who would share a cabin with you and your wife,” Thomson told the couple this week.

“If you do not wish to cancel your holiday entirely then the only alternative is that we look at amending your holiday to a suitable land-based one.”

Thomson said that its ships were too old to have the necessary equipment to make the journey safe for the couple. There are clauses in disability discrimination and equality law which mean that some elements of the rights of deaf and other disabled people to travel do not apply onboard cruise ships – although the laws are set to change to come in line with rail and aviation by the end of this year.

However, the Harrison family felt that they should still be allowed to travel. They have been on cruises before without any problems. So Paul Harrison began a campaign on social media and then got in touch with Channel 4 News’s No Go Britain team.


Following this pressure, Thomson Cruises backed down from its original position.

The company will now provide various different adaptations which mean that the couple can travel as planned, including vibrating pagers in case of an emergency. These pagers are already used by the crew but Thomson told the Harrisons it would make an exception for them and any other deaf passengers in the future to ensure that they could be contacted in the event of an emergency.

The Harrisons have also been re-assigned cabins nearer to reception and provided with a hostess to give them more information, among other steps.

In a statement, Thomson said: “Thomson Cruises would like to apologise to Mr and Mrs Harrison for any confusion regarding their forthcoming cruise.

“We have put together a solution that will allow Mr and Mrs Harrison to travel safely onboard the Thomson Celebration. As part of our modernisation programme, we are taking steps to ensure we are better equipped to facilitate customers with hearing difficulties and other disabilities in the future.

“However we do ask that people with welfare needs contact us as early as possible so that we can ensure the necessary arrangements are made to suit their requirements.”

‘Big step forward’

The Harrisons are now due to travel as planned on 10 September. In response, Paul Harrison said: “It is a big step forward. A drastic change from their existing service.

“They [Thomson] are keen to hear from my parents after their cruise to see how they can improve and act on their feedback. My reaction is relief. I am happy that they applied common sense to make some simple changes to accommodate my parents.”

However, he said it was a shame that he had to push the company into making the changes via a campaign on social media.

“We are a bit disappointed that we had to badger them to see the light. At least they made changes. To be fair, their social media and PR officers are willing to engage and update with us and people who took their time to comment on their policy. They could ignore my complaint and make it go away but they decided to engage and co-operated with us.

“I want to thank Thomson Holidays for making my parents happy after the well-publicised setback. The important thing is that my parents are going away on holiday.”