A family disputes the bill for a Hawaiian dive trip that turned into a traumatic experience
My family and i decided to take a dive trip during a summer vacation on Oahu. We were new to the world of scuba but were told by a local outfit, Aaron's Dive Shop, that we could take two orientation dives without needing certification. We signed up, paid a total of $520, and had to fill out a medical questionnaire, which we weren't told about beforehand: There were a few parts of it that we weren't comfortable with, but the dive instructor told us not to worry about them. Prior to boarding the boat, we were given a very limited safety briefing that included how to clear your mask if it filled with water, and how to regain control of a lost regulator. No safety video was shown, despite assurances by the staff of the dive shop that there would be one.
Shortly after boarding, we arrived at the dive site. The dive master told us to suit up, put on all our gear, jump into the very rough water, and then proceed to the seabed, 40 feet underwater, where we would be given instructions. My wife and 16-year-old daughter never made it to the bottom, and were back on the boat within 10 minutes. My 14-year-old son fared a little better and made it to the bottom with me, but he was in such a state of panic because he wasn't prepared for what we encountered that he had almost run out of air by the time he got there. He alerted the dive master of this, but the underwater tour continued. Ten minutes and 100 yards later, my son had run out of air completely and had to use backup air from the dive master, who returned with him to the surface. Given the horrific experience of this first dive, we were unwilling to take the second.
I find it hard to believe that it was accepted practice to toss novices into 40 feet of water in rough seas. I was also concerned that the dive master would continue with my son even though he knew his air was low. The dive shop's staff were nice enough, but I think they need to reevaluate the way they handle first-timers. I wrote to Aaron's Dive Shop, telling it just that and requesting a full $520 refund. No one ever replied. I also wrote to PADI, the organization through which the shop is certified, and all it did was reply that it was reviewing the Aaron's safety procedures. Can you get us back our $520?
James Howe PASADENA, CALIFORNIA
"It was accepted practice to toss novices into 40 feet of water in rough seas"
Diving can be thrilling, a portal to another realm, but it can also be terrifying. It is nearly impossible to anticipate the disorientation of one's first dive, especially without proper training--colors soften; sounds come through muted and multidirectional; the diver, who is wearing cumbersome equipment, can feel like he is sinking, floating, and completely weightless all within a matter of seconds; visibility can capriciously change if a cloud blocks the sun's rays; and the swell of the water can be unnerving and nauseating. And these are just the environmental variables. What should the diver do if he is underwater and his regulator fails to work? Or his air tank starts to leak? Or he needs to ascend quickly but safely to avoid causing an embolism? The only way to ready oneself is through repetitive instruction and practice in the water. That said, many companies offer what is known as an introductory or resort dive--where, following rudimentary instruction, dive masters take novice divers out on calm seas that are usually no more than 30 feet deep.
This is what the Howes had signed up for. But--given the far from ideal conditions in Hawaii that day and the fact that everyone in the family was a novice--they should have been afforded a little more attention and care than they appear to have received. We wrote to Aaron's Dive Shop for an explanation.
After contacting the outfit three times, we spoke with the owner of the company. He remembered that the Howes had complained after the dive had ended, and that he had then conducted a full briefing with all crew members. His senior dive instructor, who was on the boat, assured the owner that the Howes had been given full instructions, but he did agree that the water was rough that day and that this no doubt affected the family's trip. The owner apologized for taking so long to deal with the issue, and in addition to offering Howe a refund, promised to take the family out for free the next time they visit Oahu. Ombudsman acknowledges the refund and the gesture, and hopes that the Howes, should they accept the free trip, will have happier memories to show for their next dive.
It may be stating the obvious, but any sport or pastime where there is the potential for grave injury--skydiving, surfing, scuba diving--should not be undertaken without proper training. The Howes put their trust in a dive shop--which was not surprising given the fact that the company is certified by PADI, the largest scuba certification organization in the world. But training to dive and taking an introductory dive are two different things, and the latter should be approached with caution and respect for an alien, aquatic environment. The introductory option is clearly an attractive alternative to having to sit in a classroom before getting wet, because it promises customers the chance to experience underwater riches with minimal fuss. But such dives, which millions upon millions have done all over the world, can leave a novice feeling woefully unprepared, and possibly petrified, should things go wrong. For starters, never go with a dive operator who is not licensed. If you sense that the operator is taking shortcuts and is compromising on safety, discuss your concerns with the dive operator. If that makes no difference, walk away and ask for your money back. Ultimately, whether you decide to do a resort dive or to train to become a certified diver depends on your comfort level and appetite for risk--something only you know.
Room to Improve
My wife and i, our two kids, and my 84-year-old mother booked a large room for three nights at $350 a night at the New Casablanca on the Ocean, a hotel in Miami Beach. The property was rated as a AAA three-diamond hotel, yet what we encountered when we arrived was very disappointing. The room was spacious but was not three-diamond quality. The washer worked, but the dryer didn't. The windows didn't close properly, so when the breeze came in off the Atlantic at night, there was a constant whistling sound. We couldn't close the blinds for the glass doors that led onto the balcony. Neither the stereo nor the microwave oven worked. The light switch on the table lamp was broken, and six lightbulbs were out, including those in the refrigerator and the freezer. Wild cats roamed the pool area, and the alley was full of trash. The whole place looked worn, and I think the word new should be removed from the property's name.
I wrote to the hotel and to AAA, explaining how dissatisfied I was and requesting a refund for at least one night. AAA replied, informing me that the New Casablanca had been taken off its diamond rating list entirely. The hotel still has not responded. Maybe you'll have better luck.
Tim Murray CHANTILLY, VIRGINIA
At the very least, Murray deserved a response from the New Casablanca. After all, he had spent in excess of $1,000 for three nights in a room that, by his account, was substandard. Since we wanted to hear the hotel's side of the story, we wrote to the general manager. A month later, we wrote again. All told, we wrote to him on five occasions over a five-month period. Our attempts to elicit a response were in vain--we never heard back. We are surprised that the hotel chose to ignore us, but ultimately we have no option but to close the case.
Travelers select hotels for a variety of reasons, among them location, amenities, price, and independent ratings. Murray was disappointed that the New Casablanca didn't live up to its three-diamond status, which AAA defines as "properties [that] are multifaceted with a distinguished style, including marked upgrades in the quality of physical attributes, amenities, and level of comfort provided." While this may have described the New Casablanca at some point, it no longer did, prompting AAA to remove the hotel from its recommendations.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, speak to a manager and request some sort of compensation--a discount on the room rate or perhaps a free meal. If the manager is unavailable during your stay, express your concerns by writing to the property: List the shortcomings, propose a settlement, and hope for an answer. Unfortunately, many readers never receive a response--companies frequently ignore their letters, perhaps thinking the problem will simply go away. This saddens Ombudsman, because often the issue could be resolved with the simple courtesy of a response.
Got a Problem?
Ombudsman offers a free service of advice and mediation. Because of the volume of letters we receive, we cannot act in all cases. Write to Ombudsman at Conde Nast Traveler (4 Times Square, New York, N.Y. 10036) and include documentation and all photographs. Please note that we cannot respond to submissions sent via e-mail. Correspondence must be typed and must include a daytime telephone number. All submissions become the property of Conde Nast Traveler and will not be returned. Submissions may be edited and may be published or otherwise used in any medium. For hundreds of lessons gleaned from Ombudsman, call 212-286-4410 to order Wendy Perrin's Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know ($18, inclusive).
Source Citation:"Scuba Diving: Depth Charge." Conde Nast Traveler 43.10 (Oct 2008): 112. Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure Collection. Gale. BROWARD COUNTY LIBRARY. 6 Oct. 2009
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