Dora Dynov and Alec Huxford were looking forward to celebrating their engagement in Paris. But what was supposed to be a romantic weeklong vacation with an engagement photo shoot in front of the Eiffel Tower turned out to be a stressful disaster.
As news of the coronavirus became more urgent closer to the date of her trip, Dynov started worrying. She contacted Parisians she knew, all of whom said the city is safe and that things were operating as usual.
On Sunday, the day before her redeye flight to Paris, Dynov called Air France, whose employees told her they were not canceling any flights to the city. So they flew to France as planned. When they arrived, Dynov said everything seemed fine.
"No one was wearing masks. There were a ton of other American people," she told BuzzFeed News. "It just seemed like 'off-season Paris.' The streets and restaurants weren’t extremely busy, but there were definitely still people around."
Then, on Wednesday, their second day in Paris, President Trump announced that the US will suspend all travel from Europe to the US for 30 days, beginning Saturday at midnight. Dynov, 24, and Huxford, 25, began getting frantic calls from friends and family alarmed that they may not be able to make it back to the US.
"I got a flight home as soon as I could," Dynov said over DM while she was on the plane back. "The situation really sucks...Flights were only selling at skyrocketed prices."
Trump's address on Wednesday evening caused mass confusion among Americans abroad. He did not clarify in his announcement that US citizens, permanent residents, and their family members would be exempt from the Europe travel ban, causing panic among those who scrambled to buy flight tickets departing before Saturday out of fear that they may not be able to get back into the country.
Though Dynov and Huxford are both US citizens, when they heard Trump's announcement, they rushed to change their flights because they weren't sure if he was going to change his mind about who the ban will include.
"With the coronavirus spreading and changing so quickly, it’s one of those things where I guess you don’t want to risk it by staying and then he comes out with a new message saying US citizens are stuck too," Dynov said. "Trump's announcement was honestly really alarming to me and my family."
Dynov and Huxford paid a total of $580 for round-trip tickets from Newark, New Jersey, to Paris when they planned the trip in July. When they tried to buy last-minute tickets back to the US on Wednesday, the cheaper flights were sold out.
"It was one of those things where we clicked on it when it said one price and then 2 minutes later the price jumped," she said. "At that point it was either 'take the flight and go home or possibly get stuck here.'"
They ended up paying more than $4,600 for two seats on an early morning flight on Thursday.
"We packed within minutes and immediately went to the airport in case it got super hectic. We sat at the airport for 7+ hours before our flight," she said, adding: "Exhausted truly isn’t even the word."
David Charon, 31, was half asleep in his Paris hotel room when his parents called from Maryland on Wednesday night telling him they’d just gotten news alerts about the travel ban. They demanded he find a way home immediately.
“Like being summoned,” Charon told BuzzFeed News, “but obviously concerned.”
He started searching for flights online — the hotel Wi-Fi wasn’t working, so he relied on slow data roaming — but said the average price for a flight from Paris to Washington, DC (close to his parents in Maryland), or to Orlando (his home) were $3,200.
“God bless my parents,” said Charon, “they searched high and low for something not so expensive.” They found an $850 flight from Paris to New York and quickly purchased it.
He stayed up until nearly 6 a.m. figuring out his new flight schedule, then had to check out of his hotel at 11 a.m. He and his Orlando roommate were supposed to head to Munich for the second leg of their two-week trip, but instead were slated to fly home Thursday evening.
Charon said he understood US citizens were exempt from the ban, but believed it only applied to citizens who’d been in Europe for 30 days. (Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf did not include that 30-day stipulation for Americans in a statement clarifying the ban.) Charon also feared his flight home from Paris on March 18 was canceled.
“Everyone here was under the impression that if you don’t make it back by Friday, then we have to wait,” said Charon.
European citizens have also been sent into chaos, forced to cancel business trips and vacations because they won’t be allowed to enter the US.
Samir Hussain, a 33-year-old hip-hop producer from Cologne, Germany, who makes music under the name Gun Productions, planned to spend a month in New York recording music, seeing friends, and having business meetings.
He was due to fly out on Sunday but learned of the ban after waking up to a message from a friend from Dallas. “Well you can’t come now,” it stated.
“I was mad disappointed,” Hussain said. “I was ready to leave.”
But the producer understood some of the coronavirus fears the US is dealing with.
“The panic that’s happening in New York right now, was happening in Cologne last week,” he said.
Hussain added that he drove to the Netherlands with friends to buy food and supplies because so many German supermarkets were empty. When he first planned the trip, there were cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in Europe, but not New York, meaning he’d thought he was at less risk of getting it by leaving.
“If I go over there, I’m probably safer than here,” he said.
Hussain hadn’t bought tickets and planned to stay with friends, so there was no huge immediate financial loss caused by Trump's travel ban. But he called the restrictions a “loss of opportunity.” Most of the artists he works with will spend their summer touring festivals and won’t be available, so the trip is likely delayed until the fall. Other business meetings and plans can’t go ahead.
“I hate it. That just means I’m losing time,” Hussain said. “The sooner I get there, the better.”
Trump’s travel ban announcement similarly left US citizens confused and frustrated as they were about to board flights to Europe.
Michael LaCause, 22, and Teresa Corrente, 24, booked a trip to Barcelona, Spain, through Expedia in January, paying $1,600 for their flights and hotel room.
Corrente tried canceling the trip a week ago as the coronavirus outbreak became more alarming, but was told that Expedia would not refund them their money or give them travel credits if they bailed on their trip.
“I did try to cancel it out of fear and safety, but at the end of the day, I said, 'You know what, maybe it’s me being overcautious,'" she told BuzzFeed News. “If I can’t get my money back, let me just go.”
On Wednesday, they went to JFK airport in New York City, checked their bags, and got their boarding passes. As they waited in line to go through security, Corrente received a panicked call from her aunt about the impending travel ban.
"We're just kind of in line like, What do we do? So we stepped to the side and let everybody pass us while we were talking to an airline attendant who, at the time, she didn't seem to know too much about it either because it's all literally happening in the moment," LaCause told BuzzFeed News. "You would think that if something this serious is happening, somebody in the airlines would know. There would be an announcement or something."
But he and Corrente said when they went around the airport asking employees for more information, "they were just as surprised" to hear about the ban.
After speaking to an official with TAP Air Portugal, who they said told them the ban was indeed real and that there were no exemptions, they decided to leave the airport and go back home.
LaCause and Corrente were still unsure about who the ban applied to when speaking to BuzzFeed News on Thursday. When told that they are exempt as US citizens and technically could have boarded their plane and gone on their planned vacation, LaCause said, “Are you fucking serious?”
“So did we just forfeit our trip? Did we just forfeit our money?” LaCause said. “I don’t know, I’m trying to get in touch with Expedia, but they’re literally having technical difficulties because too many people are calling.”
LaCause stressed that they were told the ban applied to everybody.
“And also — we did ask that question. We asked the Tap Airline Portugal manager. We asked him, are there any exemptions, because we had a friend text us and say, ‘Wait, guys, don’t leave. American citizens are exempted,’” LaCause said. “And [the manager] said, 'No, there’s absolutely nothing. If you go, you can’t come back.'"
The couple are still trying to get their money back. “We’re basically fresh-out-of-college students. It might not be a lot of money to everybody, but to us that’s a hole in our pockets,” LaCause said.
They don’t have any plans to travel in the near future — especially not after Trump’s announcement, which they said instilled a sense of panic.
On Thursday morning, Corrente went to get supplies with her mom.
"We were supposed to be at a rooftop swimming pool with a bar in Barcelona right now, at a five-star hotel," LaCause said.
"And now,” Corrente added, “I'm panic-buying toilet paper at ShopRite instead."