PARIS – A Las Vegas wedding with an Elvis impersonator: Canceled. A 3,500-kilometer (2,200-mile) trans-America road trip, a voyage of a lifetime that took months to prepare: On ice, too.
The travel ban announced by U.S. President Donald Trump to try to reduce the spread of the new coronavirus threw Europeans' best-laid plans — family reunions, birthday celebrations, vacations, trips for both business and pleasure — into utter disarray Thursday.
For Europeans brought up on imports of American television, music, sports and fast food, the idea of suddenly becoming unwelcome on the other side of the Atlantic for 30 days from midnight on Friday was also a psychological shock, akin to being spurned by an old and familiar friend.
“We were going to get married in Las Vegas, with Elvis. It was going to be epic," said Sandrine Reynaert, a Parisian who was having to cancel the ceremony on April 20, a date that Gael, her future husband, already has engraved on the inside of his ring.
“It's strange,” she said of the travel ban. “Perhaps an overreaction compared to the epidemic.”
Reynaert said she'd take a day off work Friday to devote herself to canceling or adjusting reservations, unraveling the road trip that, as well as Las Vegas, would have taken them to other iconic spots of Americana: Route 66, Joshua Tree National Park, the Grand Canyon.
Likewise, retired French teacher Jean-Michel Deaux spent months planning the 3,500-kilometer (2,200-mile) trans-America road trip that has now evaporated just when it was within touching distance, with a flight into New Orleans that had been booked for March 24.
The March-May voyage with his wife, Christiane, would have taken them through multiple states, on a giant loop. They planned to follow in the footsteps of the Marquis de Lafayette, the French aristocrat who fought with American colonists against the British. They wanted to see Amish communities in Pennsylvania, take in music in Memphis and ride a boat on the Mississippi. They even bought extra suitcases to carry gifts and souvenirs back to France.
“We’ve been preparing this trip for years,” Jean-Michel Deaux said. “It was going to be a pilgrimage.”
“I’ve been studying the maps every night,” he added. “I had already pictured myself on the boat.”
That Trump chose not to apply the travel ban to the United Kingdom baffled, even angered, some European neighbors of the British. With nearly 600 confirmed infections, Britain has more coronavirus cases than all but seven of the 26 European countries hit by Trump's ban, making the new restrictions confusing and seemingly arbitrary to some.
“Typical Trump. It’s mindless We can’t leave from Europe, only from Great Britain, it’s nonsense," said Emmanuel Philippart, a would-be traveler at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport, wrestling over whether to cancel his flight to New York, for fear that he might not be able to return to France.
Travelers hung on phone-holds for what seemed eternities and repeatedly hit refresh on websites in hopes of changing or reimbursing tickets, canceling hotels, and recovering deposits.
“My mood is pretty low," said Matias Rietig, a student from Berlin whose plans to start a sought-after internship on March 31 at tech firm Cisco in California collapsed.
In Paris, accountant Aude-Claire Trost was actually relieved that the ban was kicking in before she had been due to fly Saturday to San Francisco, to audit a French firm's U.S. subsidiaries.
“I was scared about getting sick in the plane, getting a fever and then being put in quarantine,” she said.
Trump announced the ban in a rare Oval Office address to the nation Wednesday night. He sought to be upbeat, declaring: “The virus will not have a chance against us.”
More than 4,700 people have died worldwide. Most people have only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, though symptoms can be severe, including pneumonia, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. Recovery for mild cases takes about two weeks, while more severe illness may take three to six weeks, the World Health Organization says. More than three-fourths of patients in China, where the virus started, have recovered.
Paris lawyer Thomas Devred didn't wait for Trump's decree to cancel his trip to Boston planned for later this month. Mindful of the risk that, as a European, he might be “a possible spreader,” Devred said he decided that out of ”respect for others and a civic duty" that he would not cross the Atlantic.
Private jet brokers in Europe reported a surge in demand Thursday from wealthy Americans scrambling to get home.
“All of a sudden they're thinking ‘But I would rather not be quarantined when I arrive,’ so they’re jumping on the planes,” said Eymeric Segard, CEO of Geneva-based LunaJets.
Others flocked to commercial airports.
“I’ve been hysterical for two days, so a complete panic attack about getting home,” said Helen Neumann from Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, who was flying to Boston on a direct flight from Rome on Thursday. “I was like, I’ve got to get out of here.”
But for many Europeans, the prospect of a breakfast in America, of waking up in Vegas, or living a fairytale in New York evaporated with smartphone alerts and harried overnight trans-Atlantic phone calls after Trump spoke.
For Reynaert, it meant postponing her Elvis wedding in Vegas to next year.
“We didn't want to do something conventional in France,” she said.
Deaux said he’d try to reschedule his voyage for later this year, in hopes the virus passes.
“When I heard this morning, I was very disappointed but not surprised,” he said. “All the preparations, ruined.”
Associated Press journalists Alex Turnbull and Nicholas Garriga in Paris, Karl Ritter in Rome, Kirsten Grieshaber and Kelvin Chan in London contributed to this report.
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