Vietnamese students in US fret as pandemic delays repatriation flight indefinitely

By Viet Anh   May 5, 2020 | 06:00 am PT
Vietnamese students in US fret as pandemic delays repatriation flight indefinitely
A group of Vietnamese students gathers at the San Francisco International Airport, the U.S., on May 1, 2020 after their flight back home, supposedly on May 2, got delayed. Photo courtesy of the students.
Dozens of Vietnamese students studying in the U.S. are stranded in California after a May 2 repatriation flight got delayed without rescheduling.

"I learned that my flight was delayed at 2 a.m. on the morning of May 1. I did not know whether to leave or stay," said Nguyen Doanh, a student in Washington state.

The May 2 flight, supposed to depart from San Francisco, was delayed until further announcement, the Vietnamese Embassy in the U.S. said. The delay was caused by the airline not receiving sufficient licenses and documents to operate the flight. Vietnam was trying to finish all procedures in accordance with U.S. policies so the flight can take off as soon as possible, the embassy said.

Doanh tried to called the airline and the hotel he had already booked in San Francisco to cancel his ticket and room, but the lines were always busy. So he went to the airport, hoping that the flight back home would only be delayed by a couple of days at the maximum. It took him 10 hours to reach the airport in San Francisco.

Tran Minh, a student in New York, learnt her flight back to Vietnam has been delayed when she was on her way from Houston, Texas to San Francisco. Minh has been unable to return from Texas to New York since early March due to travel restrictions placed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Throughout her seven-hour trip to San Francisco, Minh couldn’t help but worry she might catch the novel coronavirus somewhere along the way.

Nguyen Khanh, who’s in high school in Indiana, learned of his delayed flight when he was in North Carolina. "I’m very worried, but I have to keep going [to San Francisco]. I can’t go back."

Duong Quang Vinh, another high school student in San Diego, California, received the news just a day before and decided to stay on in his dorm until further announcements.

Best bet

Doanh’s school has advised its students to leave the U.S. once the school closes. If he does not leave, he would have to pay around $1,000 per month for housing and living expenses until he graduates this September. He now studies online.

Hoping the situation would improve, Doanh had bought commercial flight tickets earlier, but they were delayed indefinitely too. The May 2 flight back home organized by the Vietnamese Embassy in the U.S. would cost $2,000 one-way, while an usual round trip would cost only around $1,000-1,200. Still, it might be his best bet at the moment.

Minh meanwhile finds herself in a difficult situation as she doesn’t want to bother her acquaintances in Houston. However, she cannot return to New York as her dorms have closed. With the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths rising each day, Minh thought going back to Vietnam and studying online would be a much safer option than staying behind. Stuck in San Fransisco now, she hopes the flight to Vietnam will be rescheduled soon.

Vinh, the high school student in San Diego, California, is now studying online as he waits for the summer vacation that begins at the end of this month. Despite the ongoing pandemic, many are still gathering in public entertainment places and beaches. At least they’re still wearing masks.

"I hope I can return to Vietnam early as the dorms would close once summer vacation begins," said Vinh.

Expensive lodgings

For the group of Vietnamese students who managed to reach San Francisco, many have had to pay for hotel rooms inside the airport, which typically costs around $220 per room per night, said Doanh. But the Vietnamese embassy has later helped them find cheaper hotels nearby, at around $60-150 per room. Masks, hand sanitizers and vehicles to help students get other necessities have also been provided by the embassy, Doanh said.

"I’m booking hotel rooms night by night right now. If the flight back to Vietnam is delayed further, I would have to find a cheaper place."

As of Tuesday, the U.S. was the country with the highest number of Covid-19 cases and deaths, far surpassing the second most affected country, Spain. Over 1.2 million have been infected with the disease in the U.S., and around 70,000 have died. Spain has recorded over 248,300 cases so far, with over 25,400 deaths.

Since mid-April, Vietnam has worked with several countries, including the U.K., Italy and Japan, to repatriate thousands of Vietnamese on several special flights after commercial flights were suspended as a Covid-19 safety measure.

All Vietnamese airlines have suspended international flights since March 25.

Vietnam has recorded 271 Covid-19 cases so far, of which 39 are active. The country has also recorded no community transmission in the last 19 days.

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