4 Americans stuck abroad share stories of flight cancellations and poor government response

Following is a transcription of the video.

Zoe Parham: There is a message that has gone out to everyone abroad, I think it's from the state department, that says, "Come home now, or you might not be able to come home." That message came out after we were stuck. After we were stuck in Peru.

I bought a United flight that was going to go from Lima to Houston to Denver. I had my boyfriend call United just to confirm everything, and my flight had been canceled, and I was never notified. And that's when I started to feel like, that's weird, you know, the quarantine is supposed to be over. Like, why don't I have a flight anymore?

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Arturo Salgado: When we came, India only had three cases, and right now they have over 500. Literally, from one day to the next, everything just changed. When we got to Mumbai, it was like: "OK, we're closing everything down. There are no more flights."

Brian Johnson: I've already been rebooked eight to 10 times since last Tuesday. If I didn't have a wife and kids to get back home to, I think I would've just stayed in Austria and just given up.

Parham: United won't be flying back until May. I've heard the same thing about American. Things are not just returning to normal when the quarantine is over. And there've been a lot of rumors that the quarantine is just going to be extended.

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Johnson: In Austria they said, "OK, what we're gonna do is shut down nonessential shops." And I'm thinking that's not too big of a deal. The next day or two, all the restaurants shut down. I have no kitchenette. I couldn't even find a supermarket that was open. I didn't really know what I was gonna do.

Salgado: The curfew here in India has been extended until April 14. That means there are no buses, no flights. No means of transportation anywhere.

Elizabeth Lord: These restrictions have been put in rapid fire without a lot of recourse for people that are on the road. Some people were on camping trips or in northern districts, which takes either a domestic flight, which are also suspended, or many, many hours of travel by the roads.

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Salgado: They just made an announcement today that all foreigners that arrived after February 15 have to stay inside. So that's making it a little difficult for us to buy food.

Parham: A lot of people have made comments like, "Wow, what a nice place to be stuck." And I disagree. This quarantine is enforced by martial law. You can only leave your home between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m., and it's only to go to a bank, pharmacy, or grocery store. That's it. We step outside to go to the grocery store, and we have to talk to police and tell them where we're going.

Johnson: I stay in this small little hotel when I'm there, 'cause it's a great location, right in the center of Vienna. The weird thing is that the streets and everything are so empty. So empty. They don't play around. But if they catch you doing something obvious, like shaking hands or hugging, you will get fined. And I heard it was, like, as much as 600 euros.

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Salgado: There are a lot of hotels here and hostels that are not taking any foreigners.

Lord: There was an article in the India Times about a guesthouse owner being booked and arrested for having accepted foreigners. That story alone can create a lot of fear for people in a position to take us in.

Salgado: We were very lucky to find a hostel here in Bandra in Mumbai.

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Lord: So, right now we're obeying the lockdown. We haven't left our hotel, which is a nice hotel that we called ahead and said that they would accept us. But we're gonna be running out of funds soon. They're not providing any meals. We don't have any choice but to pay the hotel restaurant for all of our food. Grocery shopping is, in theory, available. But with the stories that I've heard about foreigners, you know, being threatened with violence, we don't feel as though we can leave just to get basic supplies.

Salgado: We were trying to buy food yesterday, and people did not want to sell us anything because we were foreigners. They simply said: "Go away. We are closed for the night. We're closed for the day." It's been a little difficult. We came across discrimination, even. Just two days ago we were walking in the street, looking for food, and people started yelling "corona" at me and my friend.

Johnson: So, at the point I said, OK, it's time to reach out to the embassy. The reply, and I kid you not, was one sentence that said, "If you're having problems finding a flight back, well, we recommend that you try Expedia or Google Flights to find an alternate." That was the US Embassy's reply to me.

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Lord: Our first call to the US Embassy was on Saturday the 21st. They highly recommended that we get out before the 22nd, which at that point was 12 hours away, which was when the suspension of the international flights was happening. And we had just been able to secure our entry into Delhi and to get to a hotel, so the traveling that we were doing on land was difficult, and we weren't able to make that happen.

Parham: The US Embassy hasn't really gotten back to our situation directly. I've emailed them so many times, and it says to only email them once and wait for a response, but when I finally do get responses, they're just automated. I do not want to be forgotten here.

Lord: It's very difficult for someone that has never had dealings with the US Embassy not to know what you can ask, like repatriation loans. I didn't know that that was a thing until, you know, two days later.

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Salgado: We're thinking, is it gonna be a week, two weeks, a month, two months? That's what's stressing us out right now.

Lord: We might be here for the full 21 days, and then maybe be hoping that it's only 21 days. And then, you know, I would have to do what the embassy suggested, which is start sourcing funds from friends and family at home.

Parham: I'm hoping that the US Embassy can organize a car for us with the proper documentation and at least get us to Lima. So we're available for when our names do come up on the chartered flights.

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Salgado: We're willing to do anything to get back home at this point. Whether it's paying for a flight, travel for two days if necessary. Anything. We just want to get back home to our families.

Parham: In a time that's filled with so much uncertainty, you just want to be close to your family.

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