Virgin Voyages has apologised to a blind customer after he was removed from one of their cruises.
Canadian passenger Donovan Tildesley says he boarded the Valiant Lady ship, part of the Virgin brand’s cruise line, on 13 November for a six-day Caribbean cruise.
The itinerary was set to take in Mexico, Honduras and the Bahamas islands. Mr Tildesley said he had contacted the Virgin Voyages team before booking to check that they could accommodate his modest needs; namely being helped from cabin to communal areas, and reading any printed materials to him.
However, on boarding in Miami, Mr Tildesley says he had just sat down for a first drink at the ship’s bar when he was taken aside by staff who had apparently been contacted by Virgin’s legal team.
“They basically say, ‘We have some bad news: it’s been determined that we don’t have enough supports for you as a blind solo traveller. So you’re going to need to get off this cruise,’” he told Canadian news site Daily Hive.
The experienced traveller, who co-owns a radio station in Whistler, said: “I thought, ‘Is this some sort of joke?’”
The staff were apologetic but said the message had come from the legal department; Mr Tildesley was moved to a Miami hotel as the ship set sail.
He says that Virgin’s senior vice president of fleet operations, Frank Weber, called him soon after to discuss the incident.
Mr Weber apologised for the “miscommunication” at Miami’s port and said they would be able to fly Mr Tildesley out in business class to the next port on the ship’s itinerary so he could rejoin the journey.
Mr Tildesley says that rather than just complain, he saw the moment as an opportunity to discuss accessible travel openly with the operator and hold cruise lines to account.
“I’ve taken it one step further in that I’ve asked Frank to invite me to speak at a corporate Virgin meeting next year to talk about accessibility and inclusiveness,” he told reporters.
“If you say on your website that you’re completely accessible to people who are blind and you have braille on the elevators and in your rooms and everything, you’ve gotta walk the walk if you’re gonna talk the talk.
“If something that’s happened with me can help others in the same journey, can help other blind people in the future, then I’d like to take the positive approach,” he added.
Posting on Instagram as “The Blind Guy”, Mr Tildesley praised Virgin Voyages for their swift action after he was removed from the ship.
Beside a picture of him on a daybed on the ship’s deck, he wrote: “It says a lot about a company when they can recover from a mistake. @virginvoyages did that and then some.
“Sunday I was escorted off the cruise ship because they weren’t sure they had the supports in place for a solo blind traveller. Today I am flown business class to Honduras to re-join the same ship, and I am enjoying drinks on the #Rockstar Deck.
“Thank you for everyone’s help and support over the last couple of days!!”
A Virgin Voyages spokesperson said that the removal had occurred “out of an abundance of caution”.
“We hold ourselves to the highest standard of customer service and are fully committed to creating an environment where everyone is welcome,” they said.
“We know that in this instance we have fallen short of this commitment and we are infinitely sorry.”
Mr Tildesley even posted a photo of a handwritten note from Sir Richard Branson thanking him for letting the company “make things right”.
He joked: “Now, I think Richard Branson needs to send me into space.”