Like many other countries, the U.S. chartered ‘repatriation flights’ to bring U.S. citizens home during the coronavirus pandemic. When commercial flights were no longer available to certain destinations, these flights were arranged by the State Department.
In some countries flights like this are ‘free’ (paid by taxpayers). U.S. citizens must pay the cost of their own repatriation flights by law. But the U.S. government has handled the billing about as well as everything else during the pandemic.
- For some flights, prices were quoted with an ambiguous ‘up to’ amount.
- Some passengers signed promissory notes agreeing to pay whatever the cost was eventually determined to be.
- Others secured loans for their tickets with their passports, but since they too are waiting to be billed – for 3 months – their passports have been cancelled pending the unpaid debt and they cannot get new ones. They have to apply for new passports, but that cannot be processed until the debt which cannot yet be paid is paid.
State has flown home about 100,000 U.S. citizens home from nearly 150 countries since the pandemic began, at a cost of $196 million to the agency, which it must collect from passengers. Of that sum, about $8 million comes from direct loans secured with a passport.
…Though those untold thousands took direct loans, the main method of payment for State-chartered repatriation flights was promissory notes, without anything more than an estimate of how much it might cost. Most of the people repatriated, especially in the beginning of the department’s efforts, were handed blank documents which they had to sign before they got on the plane, promising to pay back the government when billed.
Pricing for the flights is quoted with a ‘scare number’ of up to $10,000 for a family of four, but that’s actually low. A rescue flight from Tanzania cost as much as $3500 per person, and that only got the person back to the U.S. Passengers had to separately purchase commercial flights to get to their final destination.
These flights were voluntary. Everyone knew what they were going to cost up front. That price can only go down. And it turns out that for many they were in places with less virus spread than the U.S., so they would have been ‘safer’ to stay put rather than return. The legitimate complaint, it seems, isn’t about the cost of the tickets home for those that chose to travel on these charter flights – it’s the time it takes to actually settle the debt.
(HT: Paul H.)