It is over a week since the US Department of State issued a global level 4 health advisory urging its citizens not to travel abroad. With the pandemic reaching crisis levels in the USA, the Department of State is urging its citizens abroad to return home immediately. Besides formal communications channels, the US government is using social media to get the message out.
In a Twitter message posted earlier today, the US Department of State urged US citizens and legal residents to return home now. US citizens abroad who have access to commercial flight options are urged by the Department of State to access those flights. Unless you do so, you may be stranded overseas for some time.
The embassies/consulates in the following countries published alerts today confirming international commercial flight options remain available ➡️#Australia#Bulgaria#Malaysia
No repatriation flights are currently planned in these countries. Book travel directly w/ airlines. pic.twitter.com/L34GEXDAyk
— Travel – State Dept (@TravelGov) April 8, 2020
Getting home might be difficult, but it is possible for many people
The Department of State has issued updated information for its citizens stranded overseas today. You can access that here.
US citizens and legal residents currently in the European Schengen area, Ireland, and the United Kingdom are being granted entry into the USA. Passengers traveling from these countries will need to travel through selected airports where the US government has implemented enhanced screening procedures.
Those selected airports include New York’s Kennedy (JFK), Miami (MIA), Boston’s Logan (BOS), Washington Dulles (IAD), Seattle (SEA), San Francisco (SFO), Atlanta (ATL), Dallas Fort Worth (DFW), Honolulu (HNL), Los Angeles (LAX), Newark (EWR), Detroit (DTW), and Chicago O’Hare (ORD).
While airlines have slashed services, there are still some flights available. Between the three New York airports last Sunday, around 550 flights took off. The most recent OAG data reveals that while over nine out of ten flights are now domestic flights, some international flights are still operating into the USA.
New York’s Kennedy Airport website today shows arriving flights from various international ports including Paris, London, Toronto, Mexico City, Tokyo, Santiago St Kitts and Santo Domingo.
Across the continent, at Los Angeles, there are incoming international flights from Seoul, Auckland, Sao Paulo, Hong Kong, Mexico City, Taipei, San Jose El Cabo, Guadalajara, Brisbane, Papeete, Vancouver, Amsterdam, and Sydney.
US carriers assist US Department of State with repatriation effort
Despite the handful of commercial services available, thousands of US citizens remain stranded around the world. To date, the US Department of State has brought over 44,000 citizens home.
Airlines like United are using some of their grounded aircraft to operate repatriation services on behalf of the Department of State. According to Forbes, United Airlines has operated 87 repatriation flights over the last two weeks, getting 12,000 US citizens home.
The focus of United’s repatriation flights has been Central and South America. The airline has operated rescue flights as far south as Lima. United has also operated many flights to Panama, Ecuador, Honduras, and Columbia.
Citizens abroad cannot assume governments will operate a rescue flight
While stranded citizens everywhere may expect their respective governments to lay on a rescue flight, United Airlines points out that it’s easier said than done. In their case, while the US Department of State may approve the flight, there are a lot of other regulatory and logistical hurdles the airline must overcome.
These challenges are magnified when United Airlines does not normally fly into the destination country or airport. Among other issues, that country’s regulatory authorities do not normally deal with or know the airline. Further, the airline itself doesn’t have employees or ground crew at the destination airport and the flight’s operating crew are not familiar with the airport.
United’s Vice President of Network Operations, Jim DeYoung, told Forbes that these flights were a balancing act.
“It’s a large effort repatriating passengers, with a lot of logistics involved.
“We’ve had instances where the plane was in the air and the target country changed the restrictions.”
The message from most governments, including the US government, is that their citizens cannot assume a repatriation flight will swing by at an airport nearby to pick them up. That’s why the US Department of State is sending out the message loud and clear – US citizens and legal residents should get themselves home now.