Some US Travelers Are Stranded Abroad Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

Amid the flurry of travel bans recently instituted by nations around the globe, thousands of Americans reportedly still remain stranded in foreign countries, as the world continues to contend with the unprecedented effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the State Department issued a Level-4 Travel Advisory on March 19, warning Americans to avoid all international travel and counseling those outside the country, “arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.”

That, unfortunately, is something that’s easier said than done for those still abroad who’ve found themselves suddenly scrambling to find a way home, as commercial transportation options dwindle and the cost of passage goes up. Even those who are able to book aboard a commercial airline or chartered plane are now subject to steep price-gauging for the remaining seats.

Commercial air carriers have almost completely shut down their international operations, grounding fleets and laying off thousands of employees, and are already pleading for a massive, industry-wide bailout from the U.S. federal government.

Some foreign governments that abruptly closed their borders, including Morocco and Peru, simultaneously banned all flights going into or out of their countries, such that commercial air travel back to the U.S. instantly became a non-option. Reports on the number of U.S. residents stranded in these two countries have varied, but according to ABC News, there were at least 1,800 in Peru and over 1,000 in Morocco who saw their return flights to the U.S. suddenly canceled last week.

The Hill reported that people in over a dozen countries, feeling abandoned and unable to secure transportation, have reached out to their Congressmen and local elected officials after becoming frustrated with the State Department’s sparse instructions that they should monitor their embassy’s webpage for updates.

For hundreds stranded in Peru, the U.S. government was ultimately able to arrange chartered flights with United Airlines on Friday, March 20. According to the State Department’s website, by taking a U.S. government-coordinated transport, evacuees are obligated to repay the cost of their transportation and sign a promissory note before boarding. For those who were able to take a repatriation flight out of Morocco on March 20, chartered on British Airways, a ticket home will end up costing $1,485 per person.

USA Today discovered that two government-chartered flights will also evacuate hundreds of Americans on March 23 from Guatemala, which suspended all air travel except for cargo transport on March 16. “We do not know when civilian flights will resume in Guatemala after these U.S. government-coordinated charter flights, but urge travelers to continue to check the availability of commercial flight options,” the State Department said.

During a March 20 press conference held at the White House, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the State Department had set up a Repatriation Task Force to aid American travelers who are still stuck overseas. “We’re trying to get Americans back from these places where air travel has been disrupted,” he said. “And we’ll get that done over time. We’ll get it done successfully.” According to The News International, Pompeo added, that when citizens, “can get back there on their own, they ought to try to do that.”

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