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COVID-19: Repatriation costly to stranded Americans

At expense to Americans, State Dept. on same page with airlines on repatriation costs amid coronavirus pandemic

Vakkas Dogantekin   | 15.04.2020
COVID-19: Repatriation costly to stranded Americans

ANKARA

American citizens stranded overseas amid the coronavirus pandemic are looking for ways to return home.

But there is a big obstacle in the way: repatriation cost.

American airlines are accused of overcharging for repatriation flights, and passengers are asking the State Department, which has so far taken responsibility for repatriating more than 60,000 Americans from more than 100 countries since Jan. 29, to waive airfares fees.

The criticism has fallen on deaf ears as airlines defend prices citing the cost of operations.

According to a report Tuesday by The Hill online news outlet, travelers are required to sign a promissory note to repay the U.S. government. Some are informed about the cost upfront while others expect a future invoice for an unspecified amount.

Last month, Republican congressman Chris Smith from New Jersey and New York Democratic congresswoman Nydia Velazquez introduced a bipartisan bill that urges the State Department to cover the costs for repatriation flights, which is unlikely to see any traction soon because Congress has postponed most legislative sessions until May.

The Hill reported a State Department official told the agency it found "commercial rescue, passenger-paid charter model" an essential option with repatriation efforts, meaning American citizens abroad should not seek government help in getting back to the U.S.

"While we remain in constant contact with our private sector partners, ultimately, private airlines set their own prices," the official reportedly said.

Airlines received $25 billion bailouts from Congress as part of a $2.2 trillion relief package to help Americans and businesses with the pandemic.

The novel coronavirus has spread to at least 185 countries and regions.The data shows nearly 2 million people have been infected globally, while the death toll has reached more than 128,000.

The U.S. has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases and fatalities worldwide, with nearly 609,700 cases and more than 26,000 deaths, according to the data compiled by Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.

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