Throngs of frantic Americans — many of them in college — crowded airports across Europe, scrambling to get on flights headed for the US before President Trump’s travel ban went into effect at midnight Friday.
The president’s move to stymie the deadly coronavirus left many abroad panicked and confused, even though the ban applies only to non-US citizens who in the past two weeks have been in the 26 European countries that have open borders.
Caught up in the confusion was a Brown University student from Albany, who waited dejectedly to board the last leg of her trip from France to New York.
Abby, who declined to give her last name, couldn’t hide how disappointed she was that her semester at the Université de Paris had been cancelled because of the ban.
The first call came at 3 a.m. Thursday from the program’s director, who told her that if she wanted to leave France she needed to go by Friday. An hour later, another call from the school — telling her she didn’t need to rush home but the program was being shut down anyway.
“It’s been a crazy 24 hours,” said Abby, 20. “I was stunned. …. My mother was going to come visit. But the school told us get out as soon as you can.”
Virtually the same thing happened to four college students in a study-abroad program in London. The young men were on a getaway to Lisbon when they ran into hat designers Teressa Foglia and Tyler Hays Wild. Their story broke Foglia’s heart.
Out of the blue, they received an email telling them classes had been cancelled and the deadline to get out of Europe was Friday.
Their conversation made it crystal clear just how worried they were, said Foglia, a native New Yorker.
“One said something like, ‘I don’t even know how I can afford a plane ticket,’” she said. “Another said, ‘Where am I going to live? So we go back. Then what?’”
Foglia, 32, had a healthy dose of anxiety herself Thursday, waking up at 3 a.m. to 112 texts and 40 missed calls from relatives and friends begging her to get back home. Then, for three or four hours, swapping emails with the US Embassy in Barcelona and dialing airlines to find a flight that didn’t take 52 hours or cost $5,000. And, frankly, spending the rest of the time simply trying to decide whether to go or stay.
By mid-morning Friday, Foglia and Wild had booked a Saturday afternoon flight to London, where they’ll hang out with friends until they catch a British Airways jet to Los Angeles. The hat designers, who own shops in Brooklyn and Malibu, are going to put the $800 refund from Norwegian Airlines for their original return flights toward the $1,200 for their one-way tickets to California.
“We didn’t want to be around hundreds and hundreds of people, especially with no one being screened,” she said of the couple’s decision not to leave Friday. “It’s going to get worse now.”
Americans, though, will be screened once they’re back on US soil, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Everyone is being funneled through 11 airports nationwide, where they’ll be asked about their medical history and current condition. They’ll also be advised to home-quarantine according to CDC best practices.
Foglia, clearly flummoxed by Trump’s decision, added: “When was the last time the president flew commercial? Why would you just tell people: ‘Sit tight, Americans?’”
Like Abby, Sasha Velour was at Heathrow. And she, too, didn’t want to come home — at least not so soon. The drag performer — who won Season 9 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” — had played a sold-out show at the London Palladium and was all set to play Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam and across Scandinavia. The ban put the kibosh on everything.
“It’s heartbreaking because we’ve been planning and investing in this for almost a year,” said Velour, 32, of her “Smoke & Mirrors” production. “I was getting to visit these places for the first time in my life. I’m sad but I know I made the right decision.”