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Can we trust cruise ships, airlines to protect the traveling public from coronavirus?

Carnival Cruise ships are docked at the Port

Carnival Cruise ships are docked at the Port of Tampa in Tampa, Fla. on March 26, 2020.Carnival Cruise Lines says it plans to gradually resume cruising in North America in August, nearly five months after it halted operations due to the new coronavirus. Sailings will begin on Aug. 1 with eight ships setting off from Galveston, Texas; Miami; and Port Canaveral, Florida. Credit: AP/Chris O'Meara

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Reopening fever is being peddled as the antidote to cabin fever, a major side effect of the novel coronavirus quarantine.

Travelers are eager to get back on the road again.

By sea. By air. By car.

But the novel coronavirus is still with us — and spreading.

That’s a fact, easily proven by the numbers of confirmed cases of the infected and deaths, still on the upswing.
Then, there’s the matter of travel industry track record.

Are you ready to sail again with a cruise line that told travelers it was safe when the highly contagious coronavirus was spreading in Florida and worldwide — and it clearly wasn’t?

Their action and inaction caused illness and deaths, a Miami Herald investigation concluded.


With the virus spreading in Florida and worldwide, companies refused to cancel sailings, telling people that if they didn’t carry through with travel booked when the world was quite different, they wouldn’t get their money back.

Trusting people, fearful people innocently boarded.

Miami-based Carnival Corp.’s Diamond Princess ship became the source of the largest COVID-19 outbreak outside China, which was then, in mid-February, the pandemic’s epicenter.

But that didn’t end the sailings.

Carnival and its competitors, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC Cruises, continued to operate until March 13 despite outbreaks and suspected infections on their ships making headlines.


Ditto for airlines.

Are you ready to fly again with an airline, United, that promises safety measures like social distancing between passengers to lure you — and then flies a packed plane from New York to San Francisco, sardine-style as usual?

We know this thanks to a cardiologist, who had been treating COVID-19 patients in New York, who was flying home and took a selfie with the plane’s packed cabin behind him.

I’m not ready for the false promise of coronavirus-safe cruising.

I’m not ready for bait-and-switch on safety.

You shouldn’t be, either.

Better to deal with cabin fever than returning home to a waiting ambulance gurney or in a body bag.

Cruise ships and airlines, vital to Florida’s tourism-driven economy, have a long road to travel to earn back consumer trust.
Like every other Florida consumer with canceled sailing plans for this year due to the coronavirus, I’m carefully considering whether I will cruise again in the near future — or not at all for a long, long time.

Weighing heavily on my decision is the misbehavior of principal actors in the cruise line industry during the coronavirus crisis and other past ills, like dumping oil and waste in the oceans.

Companies ignored warnings about the spread of coronavirus and misled workers and travelers about the level of safety.
They only canceled sailings the day before the U.S. government announced they would be docked because they knew the ban was coming from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cruise lines aren’t responsible for the novel coronavirus, of course, but the executives who run the companies are responsible for their failed response (or lack of one) to the highly contagious disease.

They know places where people congregate are incubators and that ships carrying thousands of passengers are fertile petri dishes for germs. They had plenty of practice with the norovirus outbreaks of vomiting and diarrhea on ships in previous years.
Their mishandling of COVID-19 harmed travelers and employees.

Images of people who boarded as happy tourists and disembarked at PortMiami on April 4 from the Coral Princess as corpses in body bags are scenes we won’t soon forget.

Neither is the video of ambulances rushing away with sick passengers and of others trapped inside their cabins telling the story of their ordeal, traveling from port to port without a certain destination.


Last week there were crew members stuck on the Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas in confinement — Romanians so desperate to get home that they’re staging a hunger strike and have gone more than 72 hours without food.

That’s the same ship I was supposed to sail to the Bahamas this June.

I’m doubly repulsed at the treatment these workers were getting when I look at my travel documents.

The cruise lines are sailing these pandemic days from one disastrous situation to another.

Surely, the pandemic put them on the course, but their mishandling of the crisis is what keeps them there instead of on the way to economic and reputation recovery.

The people who run them don’t seem to learn a thing.

Congress is investigating and rightfully insisting on strict regulations before they’re allowed to sail.

Can we trust cruise ships and airlines to protect the traveling public from becoming exposed to the coronavirus? Evidence of bad behavior points to no.

Too bad for Florida, which needs them to succeed. Too bad for those of us who can’t imagine a world without safe travels.

Fabiola Santiago is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

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