(CBS News) Royal Caribbean is facing a potential black eye over a situation in which two elderly travelers from Florida say they were left stranded in Turkey. Their journey has attracted the attention of everyone from the American embassy to a U.S. senator.
Just last April, a fire broke out on the cruise ship Jill and Dodge Melkonian were traveling on. As a consolation, Royal Caribbean offered them a full refund and a free trip, which they took earlier this week, but they never imagined bad luck would strike twice.
As veteran travelers, the Melkonians have visited nearly 200 countries and been on more than 30 cruises. But their latest trip aboard Royal Caribbean's Azamara Journey ended before it ever really began. On their first night, Dodge Melkonian fell and broke his hip. Jill Melkonian recalled, "I had just gotten to sleep, and I heard him scream and my husband takes a lot of pain -- he doesn't even use a needle for dental work -- so I knew he was in trouble."
Dodge Melkonian was immediately treated onboard, but needed more medical attention. Having purchased traveler's insurance through Royal Caribbean, the couple was dropped off in Bartin, a small town on the coast of Turkey, and taken to a local hospital. But Jill Melkonian insists the conditions there were poor and no one spoke English. She said, "I wasn't even able to explain in the hospital that he needed something for his pain.
In desperation, she reached out to her travel agency. Tammy Levent, owner of the company Elite Travel, said of the situation, "Nobody was there physically with them from Royal Caribbean. They basically left them, and that was it."
The agency contacted local tour guide Okan Kutlu who came to the couple's rescue, donating his own blood, and arranging for Dodge Melkonian to be transferred six hours away to a larger hospital in Istanbul.
Levent said, "There's got to be some accountability, some kind of responsibility to your guests."
Royal Caribbean would not grant our request for an interview, but in a statement said, "We helped arrange transportation via ambulance to the closest area hospital. Once ashore, we worked closely with the travel insurance provider, as they have the expertise to deal with local authorities and medical facilities. ... One of our care team specialists is still in contact with them today."
But Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., says that's not enough. "What we've communicated to the cruise line is that we expect you to make them financially whole," he said. "It is not right to treat an elderly couple like this."
Dodge Melkonian could be hospitalized for at least another week. Still, Jill Melkonian says the ordeal won't keep the couple from their next cruise. She said, "I suppose I will want to make sure that whatever insurance we have will cover anything in the future. We never hoped for something to go wrong, but this has been a real challenge, and a bit frustrating for us."
Overnight, the Melkonians' travel agent told us that Royal Caribbean is sending a representative to speak to the couple today. The cruise liner maintains that the health and safety of all its guests is always top priority.
CBS's Travel Expert Peter Greenberg explained, "In this particular case, they bought the insurance from the travel provider -- Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines -- and they do provide basic care, and if look at what happened here, they performed to the letter of the language in that particular policy. They stabilized the patient, they got him off the ship and took him to the nearest medical facility. That may not have been enough, and that's the key issue here. Do you buy the insurance from the travel provider and I would suggest that you don't, you want to go to a third-party provider that doesn't necessarily have the language in their policy that the cruise lines have in theirs."
He suggests people shop around for a third-party plan from a travel agent who can sell it to you.
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