Disappointed Polar Cruise Couple Triumph in Breach of Contract Claim

Almost everyone has returned from a holiday feeling deeply disappointed, but a right to compensation by no means necessarily follows. However, in one case, a couple whose £20,000 polar cruise fell sadly short of their expectations successfully took a stand on their legal rights.

The adventurous couple booked a cruise that should have taken them through the celebrated Northwest Passage. However, the route through the Canadian polar waterways, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, proved impassable as sea ice closed in. A different route was taken, but the couple were bitterly disappointed to visit none of the places, and see none of the things, that they had most wanted to experience.

Seeking their money back, they launched proceedings against the travel firm through which they had booked the cruise. Following a nine-day trial, however, a judge rejected their claim and ordered them to pay the firm's £60,000 legal costs. Whilst accepting that a significant proportion of the services for which the couple had contracted had not been provided, he found that the firm was not at fault. The change of route was due to unusual and unforeseeable circumstances beyond the firm's control.

Allowing the couple's appeal against that outcome, the High Court found that the judge erred in law in his contractual analysis and his reading of the relevant part of the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992. The Court found, crucially, that the detailed travel itinerary that the couple were given prior to the cruise formed a term of their contract with the firm.

In upholding the couple's breach of contract claim, the Court emphasised that it was not disturbing the judge's factual findings. There was no criticism of the attempts made by the firm and its agents to deliver the cruise in difficult circumstances. The question of what relief should be granted to the couple in the light of the Court's ruling would be considered at a further hearing, if not agreed.