Published August 23, 2013
Here's an argument for having a good, old fashioned travel agent.
Royal Caribbean is coming under fire for allegedly leaving an elderly American man stranded in a hospital in Bartin, Turkey after he fell and broke his hip.
Dodge and Jill Melkonian, of Clearwater, Fla., were on an Azamara cruise, which is owned by Royal Caribbean, when Dodge fell and broke his hip requiring medical care that went beyond the capabilities of the ship's doctors.
Tammy Levent, founder of Elite Travel, the couple's long-time travel agent, told Fox News that the ship's crew left them at a hospital in Bartin, where little English is spoken and, due to cultural rules, prohibits women inside the facility.
She said that had it not been for her company's relationship with an in-country, English speaking tour guide, Okan Kutla, the couple would have been left to fend for themselves. Kutla was able to act as a translator and arrange for Melkonian to be transferred to an American hospital in Istanbul.
"He is 89 years old with a broken hip," she said. "It was a government hospital, it was dirty. This hospital wasn’t capable of doing the surgery."
The hospital where Melkonian was transferred was able to perform the surgery, but now he's facing further medical procedures, including a blood transfusion. But at $10,000 a day, the hospital tab is rising daily.
The Melkonians had travel insurance, but it was set up by Royal Caribbean because the couple had been on another Royal Caribbean cruise that had been damaged by fire. This cruise was complementary as a result. Levent says that ordinarily she would have recommended additional insurance but the couple couldn't get it because the cruise was free. Levent says the cruise line, that has been slow to respond, should pick up the growing costs incurred by the couple.
Royal Caribbean, in a statement, said that it has been assisting the couple all along.
"Even though Mr. and Mrs. Melkonian had to leave the ship, we still provided assistance to them while in Turkey…the health and safety of all our guests is always our top priority. We will continue to what we can to assist Mr. and Mrs. Melkonian, and we wish him a speedy recovery," said spokeswoman for Royal Caribbean, Cynthia Martinez.
Florida Sen. Bill Nelson has been working to help bring the couple home safely, and a State Department official weighed in saying that the consulate general in Istanbul is in direct communication with them.
Having a reliable travel agent, especially during crisis, can provide more than emotional support. A travel agent is the client's advocate and works with cruise insurance companies to coordinate travel arrangements, such as cruise rebookings and flights. But in the cases where insurance doesn't cover the cost emergency medical care, Levent says having an agent fighting for you is invaluable.