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P&O Cruises is threatened by a boycott from disabled passengers angered at new rules that require wheelchairs and mobility scooters to be stored inside cabins when not in use.
Past passengers who use scooters claim the policy is discriminatory as it forces them to book more expensive accommodation. Collapsible wheelchairs can be stored inside any cabin, but passengers who use a scooter can only book a disabled cabin, which has a wider door, suite or mini-suite.
One regular cruiser told the Telegraph he is booked on cruises with P&O until 2015 but beyond that is considering land-based trips. He said he had found an advert in this publication for a foldaway scooter that fits into a small bag but was told that was also not allowed. Another wrote on an internet forum after learning of the changes: “I don’t think they deserve my business”.
The policy came into force on P&O’s Oriana ship on March 18 and Oceana on March 30, and is being rolled out to the rest of the fleet this month. The new rules also apply to sister company, Cunard.
P&O UK director Carol Marlow said that a safety review at the end of last year raised concerns that wheelchairs and scooters left in corridors blocked escape routes during an emergency. The new policy was decided just before 32 lives were lost as a result of the Costa Concordia disaster in January 2012. Marlow admitted some concerns had been raised from able-bodied passengers but said it was the best way forward.
“Too many motorised scooters were being left outside cabins because of a lack of space. Passengers with scooters must have cabins large enough to store them inside. We don’t want to lose passengers but health and safety comes first.”
Marlow said the decision complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), UK Equality Act 2010 and EU maritime passenger rights legislation brought in on December 18 last year.
It means there is now a limit to the number of scooters allowed on each cruise, which varies depending on the ship. P&O’s two largest vessels each have 31 disabled cabins and 27 suites and mini-suites. The smallest, Adonia, has three and 10 respectively. Once these are filled, no other scooter, collapsible or not, would be allowed on board, Marlow confirmed. Wheelchairs that can be folded away into the wardrobe will be allowed.
Suites and mini-suites do cost more, but Marlow said wheelchair-accessible cabins “don’t necessarily cost more than an equivalent-sized cabin”. She advised passengers to book early because numbers are limited.
Barry O’Connell, a Leonard Cheshire Disability campaigner, said cruise ships had “a lot to learn” about disabled travellers but agreed the safety issue was paramount. He questioned if cruising was a good holiday for people with mobility problems because of the issues of going ashore, especially at tender ports.
Fred Olsen Cruises and Cruise & Maritime Voyages also require passengers who want to use wheelchairs or mobility scooters on their ships to book one of their disabled cabins. Passengers who only use scooters and wheelchairs ashore can book any cabin because these can be stored on the ship and brought out as required.