Trump's Europe Travel Ban Sees Panicked Passengers Spend up to $20,000 on Last-minute Flights to the U.S.

Amid the new coronavirus outbreak, President Donald Trump's European travel ban prohibiting travelers in 26 European Union (EU) nations from entering the U.S. for the next 30 days caused a flurry of panic and confusion among travelers in Europe.

One passenger reportedly paid $20,000 for economy flights back home, according to Delta Air Lines, while others spent thousands of dollars for America-bound tickets. Airports were in "complete pandemonium," with staff blindsided by the sudden news of the ban, which was announced on Wednesday and came into effect on Friday at 11:59 p.m. (eastern time).

The ban was introduced in a bid to help curb the spread of the virus, COVID-19, which was first reported in China's Wuhan city of the Hubei province and has infected more than 147,000 people, while more than 71,000 have recovered from it. The president has since declared a national emergency in the U.S., which now reports more than 2,100 confirmed cases, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.

More than 147,000 cases have been reported in Europe, as of March 14, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, and it is now the "epicenter" of the outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Friday.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO, said during a press briefing on Friday, "Europe has now become the epicenter of the pandemic, with more reported cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, apart from China."

The travel ban, which was first announced by the president in a televised address on Thursday, was followed by a clarification from the White House which noted that the restriction would only apply to foreign nationals traveling to the U.S. from EU countries. But as soon as the news was broadcast by Trump from the Oval Office, it caused a ripple effect of panic and worry among travelers abroad.

Americans and other travelers across Europe scrambled to catch a plane back to the U.S. before the ban in order to avoid any hassle in case the exemption for U.S. citizens changes or the situation gets worse in the coming days.

One individual reportedly spent $20,000 on flights back to the U.S. with Delta Air Lines, according to airline staff at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, the French capital.

"Bedlam at U.S.-bound airlines at CDG [Charles de Gaulle Airport] in Paris early this a.m., as Americans pay as much as $20,000 for last-minute flights," Mike McIntire, a reporter for The New York Times, described in a post on his Twitter account on Thursday.

"Just to clarify, I didn't spend $20,000 on tickets (what I DID spend was bad enough). A Delta ticket agent at CDG told me that's how much one American passenger spent online in the hours after President Trump's announcement," he added.

The Delta agent told McIntire that "he [the agent] had just heard from a man who had gone online earlier that morning and paid '$20,000 for economy tickets' and was now trying to cancel them. The agent did not know if the passenger was successful."

McIntire also ended up buying "two basic one-way tickets that, combined, cost more than $5,000."

Bedlam at U.S.-bound airlines at CDG in Paris early this a.m., as Americans pay as much as $20,000 for last-minute flights.

— Mike McIntire (@mmcintire) March 12, 2020

Laura Lawson Visconti from San Francisco, who was on vacation with her husband in the Portguese capital city of Lisbon when she heard the news on Thursday, also attempted to book flights back to the U.S. upon being made aware of the ban.

Speaking to Newsweek, she said, "The airports were in complete pandemonium. Nobody knew what was going on. Europe had been given no pre-warning whatsoever and were thus not properly staffed to deal with the fall out.

"We immediately tried calling our airline to rebook flights... we were concerned about the flights getting filled up and getting stuck in Europe.

"We were not immediately aware [of the exemption for U.S. citizens]... but at that point [when I was made aware], we had already booked our return flight home. How can one enjoy a vacation under these circumstances, anyway? Honestly, we also just didn't trust what Donald Trump would do next. It seemed as if things were evolving so fast that it was safer just to return home than stay in Europe.

"We talked to several Americans on Thursday in the Lisbon airport and they all felt the same way we did — better to just return home before things got worse," she said.

The couple eventually booked flights with Virgin Atlantic and "decided to first fly to London; as the UK was exempt from the ban, it seemed a safer guarantee to be allowed back into the country without any hassle. Many other Americans we met in London did the same," Lawson Visconti told Newsweek.

"We paid $3,500 to fly home. We weren't necessarily willing to spend any price, but we probably would have been willing to spend just about any price to get to London. Thankfully, we cleared customs in San Francisco around 5 P.M. Friday evening without any hassle," she said.

While Americans might have had the option of not having to return to the U.S. by Friday, other foreign nationals based in the U.S., such as Inga Popovaitė (a Lithuanian PhD student at the University of Iowa who has been in the States for five years), had no other choice.

Popovaitė was mid-flight after departing from Chicago, en route to the Lithuanian capital of Vilinius to speak at a conference, when the announcement of the ban was made.

Speaking to Newsweek, she said, "I knew that I was risking flying out there at this time [amid the outbreak], but I wanted to see my family, and I was giving an invited talk in the conference (which is great for one's CV in graduate school). Also, the organizers were paying for the tickets."

She was at an airport in Chicago when she learned that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus a pandemic and she was "in the air between Chicago and EU (Stockholm) when Trump announced the ban," she told Newsweek.

"The first thing I did, was to find the actual text of the proclamation and to see whether [students on a] F1 (international students) [visa] are exempt on this ban. They are not, which meant that I had to get back to the States.

"And my fieldwork site is in the U.S. as well. Not being able to come back [to the U.S.] meant not only being away from my partner, my friends, and my community, but also uncertainty related to my job and my PhD dissertation. This is why I was desperate to get back before the ban starts," she added.

The flight prices just hours after the announcement "were almost as much as my monthly graduate salary," she told Newsweek.

"The flights were disappearing fast, and the only one that we could get that would bring me to the US before the ban starts, was Vilnius-Moscow-New York-Chicago-Cedar Rapids [in Iowa]. I landed in Vilnius 11 am local time, and before noon I had tickets back. I left Vilnius 5 am next morning," she said.

The organizers of the conference paid for her return journey back to Iowa. "In different circumstances, I would have been stuck in Europe, because I would not have enough funds to book a last minute transatlantic ticket," she told Newsweek.

Rome airport Italy March 2020 coronavirus
A Carabinieri Paramilitary Police Officer wearing a protective mask at the Fiumicino airport on March 12, 2020 in Rome, Italy. U.S. President Donald Trump imposed a 30-day ban on travel from nearly all European countries. Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person, the World Health Organization (WHO) advises. Getty Images

Debate over the travel ban continues

The controversial travel ban has been backed by two national health experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), who are both on the coronavirus task force led by Vice President Mike Pence.

The director of the CDC, Dr. Robert Redfield, said on Thursday, "The real risk in general right now and this is why the president took the action he did last night within the world now over 70 percent of the new cases are linked to Europe," speaking at a hearing for the Committee on Oversight and Reform, ABC News reported.

"Europe is the new China, and that's why the president made those statements," he added.

The director of the NIAID, Dr. Anthony Fauci, also believes the band was the "right public health call," FOX Business reported.

Debate over whether the EU travel ban continues on social media, with some saying it was a necessary move while others believe it won't mitigate the outbreak in the U.S.

As a global infectious diseases doctor, my prognosis is that in the next 30 days, the contribution of the #Europe travel ban to decrease the spread of #COVIDー19 in the US will be less than 0.01%. #POTUS should follow the example of @GovofCO who communicated as a true leader.

— Dr. Edwin Asturias (@easturia) March 12, 2020

"As a global infectious diseases doctor, my prognosis is that in the next 30 days, the contribution of the #Europe travel ban to decrease the spread of #COVIDー19 in the US will be less than 0.01%. #POTUS should follow the example of @GovofCO who communicated as a true leader," wrote @easturia on Twitter.

"President #Trump had to act the way he did with the 30 days long suspension of European flights due to the complete chaos and confusion in #Europe. If The #EU would've closed Italy's borders weeks ago, things could've looked much better. #coronavirus," wrote Twitter user @BeholdIsrael.

"I would have done the same thing.....the Europeans foolhardy refusal to enact national border controls has proved devastating....and we want no part of it.. #Trumpspeech #EuropeTravelBan #EuropeBan," wrote @thestationchief, a National Security Expert, on Twitter.

"This travel ban to just Europe makes no sense. Not including the UK or any other region which have higher rates of infection than continental Europe is insanely political. The UK has more infections than all mainland EU counties except Italy. #EUROPETRAVELBAN," wrote @survivorstrong3 on Twitter.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the spread of the COVID-19 virus across the world, as of March 13.

statista, coronavirus, covid19,
A map showing cases of COVID-19 around the world as of March 13.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

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Mask usage

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  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
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