Photo: Irina VIV/Shutterstock

From an American in Europe, Here’s What This New Travel Ban Means

News Airports + Flying
by Matthew Meltzer Mar 12, 2020

I woke up this morning to an insane number of messages. Like, “Lady Gaga is dating your ex-boyfriend” insane. I went to bed in Prague knowing Donald Trump was going to address the nation at 2:00 AM local time, but I literally wasn’t going to lose any sleep over it. When I woke up, I knew the news wasn’t good.

The messages were from dozens of people, all well-meaning, with screenshots of headlines saying “Trump bans all travel from Europe.” Obviously, my stomach sank, and a quick online search found a lot of similar headlines, which led me to believe I’d be stuck over here for at least a month. As I started perusing long-term Airbnbs in Bratislava, I thought, “Maybe I should look a little further into this. I can’t see him stranding thousands of people over here indefinitely.”

Surely, buried halfway through the first article I read, a single line made me feel a lot better.

“The Department of Homeland Security later clarified this applied only to European nationals, and Americans traveling abroad would still be allowed to return.”

I wanted to nominate them for a Pulitzer.

A quick look at the Homeland Security press release provides more concrete details. The restrictions affect only foreign nationals who have been to some European countries during the 14 days before they enter the US. Those countries are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Also, those traveling from the UK are not affected, which means if your flight home leaves from London, you’re okay too. The travel restrictions are also limited to 30 days.

A friend pointed out that flights will be canceled, and he is right. And checking with your airline to see if you can still get home is definitely a good idea. But even if it involves waiting a few days for an open seat or re-routing, the airlines will try and find you a way to get home. Or, worst-case scenario, you can buy a new flight home. This is why God invented credit cards.

The point is, Americans in Paris, there is no need to freak out and assume you’ll be in the EU for the foreseeable future. If you carry a US passport or legal residency you can still get home. It just might take a little more work than usual.

Trump’s speech was vague, but we can do better.

After confirming my flights were still leaving, I watched Trump’s Oval Office address to see exactly what he’d laid out. Right around minute four he says, “There will be exceptions for Americans who have undergone appropriate screenings.” Vague, yes. But reassuring to those of us with US passports or legal residency who decided to take a spring break abroad. Nobody has specified what, exactly, these “appropriate screenings” are, and my guess is it will be a complete mess. But nobody was using the “Q” word either.

I appreciate my friends’ concerns, but it underscores a serious issue we have in this country, and probably the world: People rarely read past clickbait headlines, and therefore don’t know the whole story. As someone who makes a living crafting stories with hundreds of words, it’s disheartening to know that even on issues of massive importance like this one, people aren’t taking the time to find out the details.

The White House can certainly be blamed for not having clear communication in a time of crisis, and oscillating from one week to the next on how seriously they are taking this issue. But that blame is shared with the news outlets who use sensational, apocalyptic headlines to grab people’s attention, and the public figures quick to tweet about them.

So thank you again for your concern, friends. I honestly do appreciate it. But your energy would be better spent washing your hands real thoroughly.

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