It was billed as a chance to taste the “glitz and glamour” of Hollywood or enjoy VIP treatment in some of the most exclusive shopping areas in the world.
But when a group of 2,000 elderly British cruise ship passengers docked at Los Angeles for a short stop-off during a five-star cruise around America it was, in the words of one of them, more like arriving at Guantanamo Bay.
During their £10,000, two-and-a-half month “Alaska Adventure” tour from the Arctic to the Caribbean, the passengers on the luxury P&O liner Arcadia had become more than accustomed to passing US immigration with little formality.
By the time they docked at Los Angeles on May 26, for a one-day visit it was their 10th stop on US soil.
P&O to build £500m ‘superliner’
02 Jun 2011
Cruise passengers injured in Gibraltar explosion
01 Jun 2011
Driving along Florida’s Overseas Highway
05 Jun 2011
Yangtze cruise: hotels, restaurants and packages
29 May 2011
On the spot: Gibraltar explosion
04 Jun 2011
Guernsey ‘needs to be more cruise-friendly’
03 Jun 2011
But when a handful of them questioned whether the lengthy security checks at the port were strictly necessary for a group of largely elderly travellers officials were not amused.
Although they had already been given advance clearance for multiple entries to the country during their trip, all 2,000 passengers were made to go through full security checks in a process which took seven hours to complete.
The fingerprints of both hands were taken as well as retina scans and a detailed check of the passport as well as questioning as to their background.
Passengers claim that the extra checks were carried out in “revenge” for what had been a minor spat over allegedly overzealous security.
They complain that they were “herded like animals” and made to stand for hours in temperatures up to 80F with no food or water or access to lavatories.
Some are said to have passed out in the heat while others were left confused and bewildered.
When one lady asked in desperation whether she could use a bathroom, one immigration official is said to have replied: “Do it over the side, we won’t mind.”
To compound the situation, the officials’ computer broke down and further delays resulted.
The immigration delays forced P&O to extend the stay in LA by a day forcing it to cancel a later stop-off at Roatan, Honduras, scheduled for this week.
Setting off from Southampton on April 12, the cruise has taken in stops in Europe, the Caribbean, Central America, crossing the Panama Canal to travel up the west coast of the United States to Alaska.
They were en route back to the canal before stops in Florida and New York when the ship stopped at LA last week and the immigration problems ensued
With a total of 15 stops scheduled at US ports during the 72-night cruise, the passengers had all completed standard US immigration (ESTA) forms designed for multiple-entry trips.
“A couple of passengers got a bit stroppy about having to go through all the rigmarole again and these petulant officials decided to take revenge,” said John Randall, 60, a retired dentist from Wigan, who bought the cruise as a retirement gift to his wife.
“There were about 2,000 people on the quayside with only eight immigration people.
“They were just doing basic checks to begin with but after the argument we had to do full finger prints on left and right hands and all the biometric stuff.
“Then their computer system broke down but no one was bothered about helping us.
“A couple of people struggled to control their bladders and someone said they’d suffered a prolapsed disc.”
He emphasized that he did not blame the liner for difficulties, but in a letter to the captain he vented his feelings about the immigration procedures adding: “We are holiday makers, here to try and enjoy ourselves – we are not potential inmates of Guantalamo Bay, and should not be treated as such.”
A spokeswoman for the company insisted that passengers were kept on the vessel to prevent them queuing for more than about an hour.
She added: “The delay in immigration procedures was largely to blame on issues with the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) computer systems, not aided by the verbal approach that a minority of our passengers, clearly frustrated by this delay, took with the local immigration officers.
“The US has a record for the most stringent and thorough security and entry requirements in the world, and they felt the need to enhance their security checks further, which they have the power to do.”