Americans Trapped Behind The Iron Curtain Until Further Notice As Repatriation Flight Turns Back

Aeroflot was scheduled to operate a flight from Moscow to New York JFK on Friday, where it would carry home Americans and bring Russians back to their own country. Full of U.S. citizens desperate to get home in a time of crisis, the plane pushed back and taxied out to the runway only to be ordered back to the gate, the flight cancelled.

Chaos ensued on board:

Despite assuring the U.S. Embassy that very morning that the flight would operate, Russia closed its borders as the Aeroflot plane prepared to depart. The Russian government then boarded the plane and confiscated passports. Passenger luggage was not returned. And there will be no new flights out of the country until further notice. The Embassy shared,

To those of you who were boarded on that flight today only to have it cancelled moments before takeoff, we understand and share your frustration. We had received confirmation from the Government of the Russian Federation as early as this morning that the flight would go forward as scheduled. Despite those assurances, the Government of the Russian Federation ordered the immediate suspension of all international flights without warning. At this point, we do not believe any international flights will be departing from the Russian Federation until further notice.

The best advice from the U.S. government, at this point, is to make the 500 mile journey to the Finland border and plead personally for mercy to leave the country although there’s also speculation that a flight may operate on Tuesday.

The Iron Curtain was both a metaphor – and a barrier of walls, watchtowers, fences and minefields – that separated Soviet-dominated East from Western Europe. While some Americans talk of building a wall to keep people out, historically tyrannical governments have used walls to keep their citizens in. East Germany didn’t stand up the Berlin Wall to keep westerners from freedom in the East. Coronavirus has managed to cause governments to quickly seek to stop traffic in both directions, something that the Cold War failed to accomplish at scale.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. And this kind of BS is why most countries were telling people to get home weeks ago – not that everyone could. I don’t see what good this does Russia, but trying to understand that government has always been a pointless exercise.

  2. Why anyone would ever go to that place is beyond me. No way in hell I’ll set foot (or even transit through) that place.

  3. I’m not sure what percentage of these people were in Russia due to work requirements vs. tourism but anyone over there for tourism is just stupid. Those trapped due to work I have tons of sympathy for.

    As far as Russia goes, you simply have no freedoms in Russia, China and many other countries. People still don’t seem to understand that. It would be a fascinating place to see but I’ll never get there.

  4. I would love to go to both Russia and China (have been to Hong Kong but not mainland China). As I’m sure many know, getting visa for both countries is VERY difficult and time consuming. My daughter went to China with a friend who’s mother was a Chinese citizen (her grandmother still lived in Shanghai) and it took around 2 months for the visa, including paying someone to drive all the documents, including our original passport, to Washington DC for processing at the Chinese embassy.

    All that being said, both countries are amazing and I think people should visit. Hopefully I get the chance to do so in the near future.

    BTW I do agree that waiting so late to try and leave any foreign country, even Canada let alone Russia, in today’s client is crazy unless they absolutely didn’t have any other choice.

  5. Thank you for the about how the socialist governments built walls to STOP PEOPLE FROM LEAVING. I wish more Americans had just 1% knowledge of the horrors of socialism

  6. The two named examples aren’t tourists – they’re living there with jobs – one has a Russian citizen wife and child living in St. Petersburg (the one given direction to go to the Finland border)

  7. jojo: careful criticizing russia, putin is trump’s bff and our biggest ally (more trustworthy than our own US intelligence)…

    it seems that your are still living pre-2017.

  8. @AC: The Chinese consulate in New York City (and I assume the embassy in DC) processes visas same-day for a rush fee if your travel is in the near-term (I can’t remember the time period cutoff, but I’m sure it’s on their website). I’ve been to the consulate in NY twice for same-day tourist visa applications and both times it was just a matter of submitting my application and waiting a few hours. That’s obviously far less convenient than countries where you can apply online, but not necessarily difficult in comparison to some.

  9. @Joe – It sure feels like 1983. Well, for the people stuck there it’s more like 1984.

    @Gary – The Iron Curtain was a metaphor by Churchill before the Berlin Wall was constructed. It wasn’t a reference to actual walls.

  10. Regardless the reason people waited (I’m sure it ranges from carelessness to good family/professional reasons) it’s sad the article has to exploit clickbait Russophobia instead of just reporting the facts.

  11. Jojo: It’s not due to socialism. It’s due to an authoritarian, dictatorial government. The political structure of the country does not always correlate with the economic structure. Economically, it’s an oligarchy, not socialism. Socialism is government ownership of the means of production. You are thinking of the old Soviet Union of decades ago.

  12. I would be curious as to the reasons the Russian Government gave for stopping the flight. The repatriation of Russians was supposed to happen on the other end after all…

  13. Lot of ignorant comments here. When I say ignorant I mean people with no direct experience or research. Just uninformed opinions.

    Having both visas (China and Russia) I can tell you from first hand experience that both countries have some interesting aspects relative to America. Things like healthcare for all and governments that acted affirmatively in the face of a public health emergency. No states bidding against each other for health supplies.

    In fact both Russia and China have been shipping supplies to USA. Imagine our country needing help from the so-called third world.

  14. What was the source of your statement that “The best advice from the U.S. government, at this point, is to make the 500 mile journey to the Finland border and plead personally for mercy to leave the country although there’s also speculation that a flight may operate on Tuesday. ” ? Do you have this from an authoritative source?

    The official advice from yesterday and today can be easily found on the U.S. Embassy in Moscow’s website, and .

  15. I’m a little confused about the talk of Iron Curtain and other and sundry conspiracies. Aren’t we talking about the Country – Russia, which, just the day before, sent a giant plane load to the U. S. With masks, ventilators, etc?

  16. @Fred Lowe – It’s not a matter of conspiracies. Gary was drawing an analogy to the bad old days of the USSR, what Winston Churchill referred to as the iron curtain. The government ruling things in Moscow fomented fear and distrust. It’s easier to control a populace if they don’t trust each other. Russia has made lots of moves in that direction in the last 20 years. Regardless of whether they send a plane load or two of supplies as a PR opportunity to get sanctions eased, Russia is still becoming more authoritarian every year.

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