A blind B.C. man and Paralympian who was removed from a cruise ship on Sunday says the incident is a “coachable moment” for the travel industry.
Swimmer Donovan Tildesley was the flag bearer for Canada at the 2009 Paralympics, and told Global News he’s travelled extensively solo.
So he was surprised when after checking in aboard the Virgin Voyages Valiant Lady on Sunday he was told the vessel couldn’t accommodate him.
“So I’m sitting at the patio bar … and I’m barely done my second drink when two people from the ship come up to me and basically say we’ve got some bad news.”
“We’ve determined as a person who is blind and is travelling alone there are some safety issues we’re not going to be able to accommodate, so you need to end the cruise now and get off the ship.”
Tildesley said the crew arranged for him to return to a Miami hotel, still struggling to understand what had happened.
He was particularly mystified as his travel agent had communicated in writing that he was visually impaired and travelling on his own.
“I thought it was a joke at first. Really? Something like this is happening in 2022, with a company that’s as progressive as Virgin claims to be?” he said.
“I’ve travelled the world solo. I’ve been to South Africa by myself. I ski double-black diamond runs, including skiing up in the backcountry this season. And you’re telling me it’s not safe to have me on a cruise ship?”
On Sunday evening, Tildesley got a call from Virgin’s senior vice president of fleets, who apologized to him and told him there was a “miscommunication,” he told Global News.
The company has since offered to fly him to Honduras on Tuesday to join the ship, and will cover the cost of his cruise.
In a statement, Virgin Voyages said it had “fallen short” of its commitment to the highest standard of customer service.
“We know what needs to be done to prevent this from happening again and are equally committed to making things right,” it said.
“The safety and wellbeing of our passengers will always be our top priority, and while this was done out of an abundance of caution, we take full responsibility for the situation and are grateful for the chance to make things right.”
Tildesley said that while he is disappointed at losing a few days from his week-long cruise, he’s hoping the incident can generate a positive result.
“This also presents a real coachable moment for people in the travel industry and for cruise ships in general. Just because somebody can’t see doesn’t mean they aren’t a competent traveller,” he said.
“You’ve got to walk the walk. It’s not good enough to say on your website you have fully accessible ships and braille on your elevator. You’ve got to have a strategy in place for when that passenger gets on your ship.”
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story said Donovan Tildesley was removed from the Scarlet Lady. In fact, he was removed from the Valiant Lady. Global News regrets the error.