Lawmakers propose waiving travel fees for coronavirus evacuations abroad

Lawmakers this week introduced bipartisan legislation that would instruct the State Department to waive fees on evacuation flights for Americans who are stranded in countries that have closed their borders due to the coronavirus.

The measure introduced by Reps. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.) would ease the financial burden on the approximately 50,000 Americans requesting assistance from the State Department to return to the U.S.

“This legislation would provide important relief for American citizens stranded abroad due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Smith said in a statement. “As the coronavirus pandemic disrupts the lives of Americans here at home, we cannot forget our fellow Americans overseas who are cut off from their families and using what resources they have left to cover the costs of unplanned extended stay in a foreign land.”

U.S.-chartered evacuation flights are not free for Americans. Travelers are required to sign a promissory note to reimburse the government.

Flight costs are typically calculated by reflecting the price of full-fare economy ticket or comparable alternate transportation.

Failure to reimburse the government can result in extra charges, penalties or possible denial of a U.S. passport.

The State Department said that U.S. citizens recently evacuated from Morocco are expected to pay up to $1,485 for their flight home.

Americans being evacuated from Peru have said their promissory notes don’t list the price of the flight.

“In the middle of this crisis, it is unconscionable that our government would foist enormous travel fees on stranded Americans who are desperate to get home and reunite with their families,” Velázquez said in a statement. “This bill is meant to send a message to the State Department to waive these fees, immediately.”

The State Department has said that tens of thousands of Americans are requesting government assistance to return to the U.S., and that at least 9,000 people from 28 countries have been brought back since mid-January.

Americans stranded abroad have had to spend extra money on food and lodging, with the uncertainty of when they’ll be able to return to the U.S. Many have purchased tickets on commercial airlines, only to have flights canceled at the last minute and no guarantee of a refund or reimbursement.

Tags Chris Smith Coronavirus COVID-19 evacuation Morocco Pandemic Peru
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