US Bans Cruise Ship Passengers From Flights

Filed Under: Travel

Well, it looks like Ethiopian Airlines has their work cut out for them…

The current state of cruise ships

While the US has banned cruises for the past few weeks, the reality is that there are still lots of ships out there, and most of them have hundreds of crew members onboard, and some even have passengers:

  • There are a handful of cruise ships that still have passengers on them, after confirmed COVID-19 cases, which has been incredibly complicated in terms of finding somewhere to dock
  • Given the temporary ban on cruise ships, there are 100+ ships just kind of idling around in US waters and at US ports, waiting for conditions to change
  • Those 100+ ships have nearly 100,000 crew members; when the ban was first announced it seemed easier to just keep crews onboard so that operations could easily resume, especially when you consider that many cruise ship crews are from the other side of the planet (in particular, the Philippines)

US bans cruise ship passengers & crews from flights

With a new restriction from the Department of Homeland Security and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cruise ship passengers and crews arriving in the US are no longer allowed to board commercial flights from the US.

This follows a couple of incidents in recent days where airline crews refused to work flights when they found out that many of the passengers onboard were coming off cruise ships.

It’s being recommended that those coming off ships self quarantine for 14 days (even if they aren’t showing any symptoms), and then they have to either take a private flight, or arrange other transportation.

Ethiopian Airlines is going to be busy!

I’ve written about how Ethiopian Airlines has been operating several charters from the US, including:

Those are only a couple of examples, as these charters have continued. Ethiopian Airlines is operating these flights as charters for transporting cruise ship crews, and I imagine they’ll continue to be busy.

With cruise ship crews banned from US flights, and with nearly 100,000 crew members currently off the coast of the US, they’ll eventually have to fly back home.

Bottom line

The logistics of this seem like a nightmare. This doesn’t seem like that much of a roadblock for transporting cruise ship crews, given that there are hundreds of crew members, so chartering a plane might be the most economical option anyway.

But for those passengers still currently stuck on a cruise ship, this is going to be very challenging. For example, if your cruise arrives in Florida after being at sea for weeks, and you live in California, well… that seems like a fun adventure.

The reality though is that this is going to be really tough for airlines to enforce. It’s one thing if a cruise line books 100+ people on a flight, but if an individual decides to book a flight after a cruise, I’m not sure how exactly they’d enforce that…

Lastly, at this point I have to wonder how much merit there is to this — passengers aren’t disembarking from ships with positive COVID-19 cases. At this point they’ve all essentially been quarantining for a while. They’re at least getting some sort of screening upon arrival.

Are they really at this point any higher risk than someone who is boarding a flight in NYC without any sort of health screening?

  1. Blanket bans never make sense. My parents recently came off a ship with 0 cases of COVID. The ship had not docked and no one had been on land for 15 days when they arrived in the U.S. and had effectively already quarantined. Arguably they were less of a risk then many of us on land. They are now quarantining at home for 14 days. If they picked it up anywhere it would have been in the airport or flight home which is no different then anyone else flying at this point in time.

  2. Is there a timeline for when this rule takes effect? Or when it expires?

    Would have to assume this will make cruising that much more difficult even if/when they start sailing again.

    Selfishly, i’m scheduled to go on a cruise this July and while i can get a full refund and dont have to fly to get there; admittedly i’m still unsure if the cruise will happen and if i’ll wind up going.

  3. How would the airlines even know if you came off a cruise ship? If asked, one has a strong incentive to lie.

  4. A bad “solution”, which will cause more problems than it solves.

    We’re seeing a lot of “Something must be done. This is something. therefore we must do it.”

    Politician/bureaucrat’s logic: All cats have four legs. My dog has four legs. Therefore my dog…

    If a useful Worldwide/National response was once possible, it’s clearly too late now. Taiwan and Korea acted early and decisively in ways that give flight crews confidence in the health of their passengers.

    When I walked through TPE 17Mar (weeks ago!), my temperature was taken by 4 separate health workers in rather dramatic PPE. Taiwan has fewer deaths overall, since the outbreak months ago, than New York had during the minutes you spent reading this comment. Which government, which measures, would you rather live under, right now?

    There are no good solutions now. There’s just “best we can do in the circumstances” and the spin that makes those efforts look heroic.

  5. From personal experience the way they try to enforce this gets enforced is when the port that accepts the cruise ship refuses to allow passengers to freely disembark.

    I was on a cruise that ended up in Honolulu after being at sea for 12 days (turned away at many other places). Hawaii would not let passengers disembark until cruise line arranged charter flights off the island. We were taken directly from ship to isolated tarmac area on police escorted shuttle buses. Then released to get on charter flight. No passing through the airport terminal.

    At that time (about 2weeks ago) this was just a Hawaii plan, not a CDC requirement. And it did end up being stupid. We were on a charter from HNL to LAX… and then released at LAX with no further checks to make our own way home (for me Florida). On commercial flights of course.

    To try to enforce this for all passengers all the way home is gonna be crazy expensive if it’s even possible. Using the model set up for the first leg of my return, I guess the passenger needs to be totally isolated on private charters with no access to terminal facilities to every city or town across the country.

    Like you said, if people from NYC or other hot spots are allowed to fly, this cruise ship policy is somewhat beyond the pale. I was very frustrated with my experience because I had used FF miles to book a business class flight from HNL. Not allowed to do that, so I was stuck in economy on the charter flight. No room for social distancing. (I know… First World Problem)

    And now 2 weeks later… no reports of anybody from the ship having the virus.

  6. @ryan most passengers’s flights are booked via the cruise companies and the airline can identify them. Furthermore crew can easily be identified and most people may also travel on ship crew fares
    If you have a group or 20 Filipino passengers at Miami airport , chances are they’re crew

    Sadly this sounds like the story of the MS St. Louis in 1939.

  7. Considering that four flight attendants caught the virus after a plane full of cruise ship passengers were being transported home, sounds like a logical decision.

  8. @alex: I’d take the refund for the cruise if I were you. You can always rebook later if things calm down but my gut says that cruise traffic will take a long time to bounce back (so your cruise might just cancelled) and we’ll continue to see cruise ships under this kind of mandatory quarantile/ports turning boats away way into the fall.

  9. @Icarus: Absolutely incorrect.

    IDK where you are getting your info from, but the overwhelming majority of cruise passengers book their own air arrangements.

    This may indeed change in the future given recent nightmares of having to reschedule air due to cancelled cruises- but historically it has been economically advantageous to book air independently through either cash or miles.

  10. @Icarus

    It is exactly the opposite – more than 50% of the passengers booked their own flights without using cruiselines services.


    It was exactly the same stupid thing of your subsequent flight home, LAX to Florida, happened to the Zaandam’s disembarked passengers who flew chartered to ATL, then flew commercial to NYC, and being reported on multiple TV channels that caused CDC to quickly issue the new order – Carnival is supposedly to arrange chartered flights / buses, ALL The Way to passengers’ final destinations – of course given Carnival’s sleazy tactics during its whole negotiation with Broward County / Port Everglades / Coast Guards Unified Command, no one should be surprised Carnival simply lied and short-circuit the agreed upon requirements on gaining approval to dock at Port Everglades.
    Also unlike your cruise when there was No passenger got sick in the 12 days preceding your disembarkation, the Zaandom and Rotterdam both have very sick passengers / crews that were taken to ICU immediately upon docking, plus 2 out of the 4 dead passengers were confirmed being infected (but may not be the cause of death). On top of that, Carnival told the officials they had only 10 serious cases, but in reality, they had 14 cases that ending 10 in Broward hospitals and 4 sent to Miami hospital.
    Port Everglades then refused Coral Princess to dock and she was directed to Miami port.
    It was when CDC changed its clearance – all passengers and crews must NOT be allowed on commercial flights / buses.
    Coral Princess already had 2 passengers died from Coronavirus, and it had a 3rd passenger died at ICU because Carnival FAILED to call 911 during the time the passenger’s situation deteriorating while the ship was getting clearance to dock… Eventually it was revealed Carnival way under reported the truly sick passengers, 4 and later another 5 were then sent to hospitals as far as in Tampa – from Miami to Tampa!

    All the above precautions are badly needed in light of what happened to Australia when Ruby Princess thousands passengers were allowed to disembark at Sydney, without any testing and they all got home on their own. The results? Over 622 passengers were infected cases, accounted for more than 10% of the Australian total number. A few passengers since died. New Zealand also got the blunt from Ruby.

    Both countries now have launched Criminal Investigations on just HOW these passengers were allowed to disembark and set free. Strong hints are the cruise line LIED to the local authorities about the situation on board.

    Royal Caribbeans operate a lot more efficiently and more humanely – they have many ships docked in Sydney and Brisbane with crews – they will sail the ships to Indonesia and from where the crews can disembark and fly to their home countries.

    Anyone who still went on a cruise after what happened to Diamond, after what happened and still happening at Italy and Spain and France, truly has themselves to blame – these ships that now at Port Everglades and Miami, sailed from South America on March 5 and 6 – just a few days before the cruise lines announced suspension of sailing globally – passengers still flew to South America to board those cruises they put their paid fares ahead of their lives are really only have themselves to blame. The irony is, all lines would refund the cruise fares for cruises voluntarily canceled since end of January… So those who have more common sense and value their lives much more than the few thousand $ they would lose, actually have not lost anything.

  11. Honestly screw anyone on a cruise. They shouldn’t have gone on them to begin with.

    ~ The Honorable Reginald

  12. Regarding enforcing it, I agree, and I wonder how they would know if the passenger took a cruise or not.

  13. I also agree about it being more economic to book travel independent of the cruise line. I think that this is a rookie mistake that many first time or not seasoned travelers make. May be they are afraid they will miss the boat or something like this.

  14. @miafll : your last point is completely incorrect.

    Cruise lines were not indeed offering refunds for cruises cancelled by the passenger, but rather only future cruise credits of dubious future use.

    That’s why many people went ahead and flew to their port of embarkation hoping the cruise line would cancel, but prepared to travel if they didn’t.

    It was a game of chicken to see who blinked first- the passengers or the cruise line. Unfortunately, many people blinked, cancelled their cruises before the cruise line did and are now stuck with future credits, in some cases as high $30-50k or higher.

  15. Quote from the article “if your cruise arrives in Florida after being at sea for weeks, and you live in California, well… that seems like a fun adventure.”

    I live in Australia, and there are many Aussies in the same situation. I daresay you could catch a bus to California, if so, consider yourselves lucky. This may surprise some US residents, but he world extends past the east and west coasts of the US.

  16. I am sorry but if people are selfish enough to get on a cruise during a global pandemic then no, they should not be allowed to integrate with the rest of the population. If you leave, travel or really step outside and do not follow the guidelines, then you are staying on that ship or in that foreign country for as long as it takes.

  17. Screw anybody on a cruise. wtf would you get on a cruise knowing whats going on. you made a bad decision, stay the $#^! away from airplanes. If you got money to go on a cruise you can book yourself a private flight. adios

  18. Totally agree, if people still going on a cruise after news of what is going on with a deadly virus worldwide,Then you cannot blame anybody except yourself.Cruise lines are doing all they can to manage a new invisible enemy.Imagine, a ship left the 15 of March ( Yes! You read that right) going for Antartic itinerary.Now they are stock at sea with 60% of passengers sick due Covi.Who we shall blame?

  19. As someone who works on a cruise ship that has been idling for a month, do you know how heartbreaking it is to hear one day that I might be able to fly home in less than a week, to the literal next day, hearing I can’t take a 2 hour commercial flight home? Chartering 100’s of crew members is one thing, but what about the overwhelming minority of Americans and Canadians (about 5 of us total out of about 900) who would need to take a charter of 2 or 3 people home? We won’t be home before any other nationality of crew, because we aren’t that many. I’ll be lucky to be home by June.

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