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 coronavirus-outbreak” target=”_self” rel=”nofollow noopener noreferrer”>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.
— Travel – State Dept (@TravelGov) March 22, 2020
coronavirus-state-department-charters-flights-evacuate-americans-stranded-guatemala/2895198001/” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow noopener noreferrer”>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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WTTC Unveils Safe Travels Protocols for Airlines, Tour Operators and More
The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has unveiled a new round of safety measures aimed at airlines, airports, tour operators and meeting and event organizers in an effort to propel the post-COVID-19 recovery.
WTTC previously released its Safe Travels protocols for the hospitality sector as well as outdoor retail businesses.
Developed following close consultation with WTTC members such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Emirates Group and Etihad, among others, guidance for the aviation industry includes enhanced cleaning procedures, personal protective equipment (PPE) and retraining for staff, signage to limit interaction and queuing at touchpoints and the implementation of more contactless processes.
WTTC is also recommending that airlines limit movement within the cabin as much as possible by boarding passengers from the back of the plane to the front and from the window seats out to the aisle seats.
“COVID-19 is a gamechanger for the travel and tourism sector, requiring us to enhance our approach to health and safety to protect our travelers and workforce,” said Alexandre de Juniac, Director General and CEO at IATA, in a statement. “Aviation is the business of freedom and it is vital to enable its restart on a safe basis. IATA is delighted to lend its framework and collaborate with WTTC on the Aviation Protocols as part of its Safe Travels initiative. This is an excellent example of the industry solidarity and cooperation that will be so vital to ensuring a strong recovery for travel and tourism.”
Meanwhile, tour operators are being asked to enhance disinfection and deep cleaning practices for coaches and other vehicles as well as to roll out pre-allocated seating plans with no rotation and explore staggered timing for access to venues, hotels and restaurants, among other measures.
Convention centers and meetings and event organizers are encouraged to implement physical distancing, reduce venue capacity limits, consider pre-arrival risk assessment questionnaires for participants and create isolation units outside the venue where possible for anyone showing COVID-19 symptoms.
“For the first time ever, the global private sector has rallied around our Safe Travels protocols which will create the consistency needed to allow a re-invigorated Travel & Tourism sector re-open for business,” stated WTTC President & CEO, Gloria Guevara. “Among the most important of these measures are those which will enable the aviation sector to take-off. Aviation’s return is critical to help repower the global economic recovery.”
“WTTC aviation protocols were created in close collaboration with ACI and IATA. We thank them and their leaders Angela Gittens and Alexandre de Juniac for their guidance, as it is vital we restore consumer confidence to get people traveling and flying safely,” she added. “The expertise from large and small tour operators contributed to define the new experience via tour operators and visiting event venues again, and were defined in the coordination of experts from this segment, through these robust global measures which have been embraced by businesses around the world.”
Visit WTTC.org to view a complete breakdown of the latest Safe Travels global protocols.
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