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.