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'We’ll get you out': Travelers race to get home, prices soar after Europe coronavirus travel ban

In the wake of President Donald Trump's travel ban from Europe, Americans are scrambling as they figure out how to get home amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Travelers on Thursday found that prices for major U.S. airlines had soared for flights back to the United States from Europe.

As of Thursday at 8 a.m. ET, one-way flights from Paris to New York on Friday through United Airlines appear to range from $2,400 to $5,700. From Paris to New York the same day through American Airlines, flights are shown for $2,000 to $7,300 on their website. And for the same parameters, Delta's website shows a range of $2,200 to $5,900.

American Airlines told USA TODAY Thursday that they are placing fare caps on flights to tackle this issue. There are already limited seats on most flights due to the spring break holiday.

"We are placing caps on fares for all cabins, on flights from Europe back to the U.S. that are affected by the government-imposed travel restrictions," the airline said in a statement provided by Senior Manager of Corporate Communications Andrea Koos.

USA TODAY has reached out to Delta Airlines and United Airlines for comment.

On Wednesday, Delta issued a travel waiver covering flights between the U.S. and Europe, raising the possibility that other carriers would follow suit. Delta said it will waive ticket change fees for passengers traveling to, from or through Europe and the U.K. through May 31. The waiver applies to travelers who purchased tickets before March 11.

Travelers who are scrambling to change or cancel their flights to Europe are also encountering long waits for a response from airline reservation centers and on Twitter. One traveler, @Quincy_Avery, asked Delta early Thursday: "I understand I'm sure you guys are swamped. I was given a call back time of 2 hours. It's been over 8 hours looking forward to hearing back soon."

"We don't know what we may have to do once we get back"

Tennessee medical assistant Marie Boerger was scheduled to fly from Germany to Atlanta on Sunday but quickly changed her plans when she learned of the new travel restrictions. 

It was 2 a.m. Thursday in Germany and her daughter-in-law started calling Delta Air Lines to change their flight. The phone lines were jammed.

"The wait was 4+ hours or the call would hang up,'' Boerger said via Facebook messenger. 

They decided to go to the airport later in Stuttgart to see if Delta could help. The place was practically empty when they arrived, Boerger said, and they had a new flight within five minutes of arriving. The family is now leaving on a Friday flight through Paris. They did not have to pay any fees or a fare difference. 

The big question now: "We do not know what we may have to do once we get back to the U.S.''

Vice President Pence on Thursday said returning passengers will have to self-quarantine for 14 days.

'We'll figure it out'

Haley Ohlund, a 20-year-old George Washington University student, got the news while traveling in Copenhagen after her study abroad program in Florence was canceled.

The program moved online and she proceeded with her previously-booked spring break trip. "I was just trying to kill the few days between my program ending and my spring break, which had been completely paid for, and then I had my flight home booked for the end of my spring break in about 10 days," Ohlund said.

Then, everything changed.

She booked a flight to leave at 11 a.m. local time on Thursday after seeing reports from the U.S. She "immediately" called her mom.

"We’ll get you out," her mom told her. "We’ll figure it out."

Her one-way ticket home after Trump's announcement was so expensive that it jumped thousands of dollars in just minutes.

"When I went to book it was $340 and it ended up being well over $1,000 10 minutes after," she said. "As I was clicking to book it just kept jumping up." In total? She spent about $1,500 to get from Copenhagen to Pittsburgh.

She's feeling calmer, but disappointed about the money and losing out on experiences.

"Everything was cut very short and it feels a bit unfair, even though I know that a lot of people are experiencing much worse around the globe," she said. "So I’m trying to be optimistic and looking forward to going home but it’s quite disappointing."

Her university has told her she'd keep her credits but she remains concerned.

"I hope I’m reimbursed for the housing I paid for," she said, adding that "I’m not sure I’ll get the same education"  online as she would have gotten at her program in Florence, from a wine studies education class (which she can’t legally take in the U.S.) to the ability to tour and learn at Italian museums and cathedrals.

'Trying to get home ... seems illogical'

Raquel Guarino just moved to Italy two-and-a-half weeks ago for a one-year master's program University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy.

Now, she feels safer there than she would flying back to the U.S.

"If I decided to go to home, I looked it up and with flights being canceled, I'd need to pass through at least three international airports crowded with people from all over Europe," the 28-year-old told USA TODAY. "Considering one of the advisories is to avoid crowded areas, trying to get home when thousands of others are doing the same seems illogical," she said.

In the historic center of Bra, Italy: Men practicing the one-meter distance rule before all residents were banned from going out in public for non-essential reasons.

When she landed in Milan on Feb. 23, she didn't know the virus had gotten to Italy. They took her temperature at the airport and she soon found out why.

"At that point I saw a few people with masks on at the airport and in Milan but it wasn't a big deal," she said.

Guarino dreamed of moving to Italy for almost 10 years and wanted "to do all kinds of traveling this year." Now, that's on hold.

"Every few days the situation here gotten slightly more intense," Guarino said.

Within a few days of landing, she was told her program would be delayed a few days. Then, with each government announcement, a few more days. It was most recently delayed until April 15. She was supposed to start her program on March 11.

She feels safe since she's in the small town of Bra, a place with approximately 30,000 people about two hours from Milan. 

"Most outsiders don't really have a reason to visit here, and many folks in the town are very serious about containment and restricting activities," she says.

An empty street in historic center of Bra. If you notice the red snail, it's a symbol of the University of Gastronomic Sciences' presence in the town. Bra is the founding city for the Slow Food movement (hence the snail).

Another concern: Would she be able to return to Italy at all if she left?

"I've rented a place for a year and have just settled down here. So not knowing if I could come back to my place makes the situation more overwhelming. There really doesn't seem to be much information on that at all."

'Get out now'

Salvador Ochoa, a music photographer in Los Angeles, and his family were set to board a Virgin Atlantic flight from London to San Francisco on Thursday after a recommendation from a Virgin Atlantic agent.

She told them the situation is "changing rapidly." "She suggested we try and get out now that we can," Ochoa told USA TODAY.

He had been traveling with his two sisters and their husbands and kids as well as his brother. They went to Paris, Madrid and London was their last stop.

"We got to London last night and didn’t get a chance to sight see when we were awaken by 2 a.m. text messages from family in Yuba City (in California) to get back ASAP," Ochoa said.

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