Some reportedly paid thousands of dollars for last minute airline tickets home after Trump made misleading remarks about the new restrictions.
Donald Trump announced a temporary ban on most travel from Europe on Wednesday night, but the lack of clarity in his remarks about who would be exempt left many Americans overseas scrambling.
"To keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days. The new rules will go into effect Friday at midnight," Trump said. He noted that there would be "exemptions for Americans who have undergone appropriate screenings," but did not explain what that meant.
Homeland Security officials eventually clarified that the exemptions applied to all legal U.S. residents and their immediate families.
At 9:40 p.m., the official White House account tweeted, "We will be suspending all travel from Europe, except the United Kingdom, for the next 30 days. The policy goes into effect Friday at midnight."
Trump's immigration czar Ken Cuccinelli later responded, "This does not apply to American citizens or legal permanent residents or their families."
That chaotic back and forth caused mayhem among Americans in Europe.
New York Times investigative reporter Mike McIntyre tweeted that he had witnessed "bedlam" at Paris' Charles de Galle Airport, as Americans tried to buy tickets home for before Friday midnight. He wrote that dynamic pricing and massive demand drove him and many others to spent thousands on new tickets.
Some paid as much as $20,000, not realizing the ban would not apply to them, he said.
Another traveler, visiting Spain from New Jersey, told the Times that he and his wife were awakened at 4 a.m. by friends warning him to get a flight home by Friday. Unsure whether the deadline applied to him, he unsuccessfully tried to clarify with the U.S. embassy.
Asked on Thursday whether they would refund tickets purchased by panicked Americans who were confused by Trump's speech the night before, an American Airlines spokesperson said, "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."
A KLM spokesperson said that the airline "has a global rebook policy in place for passengers who want to postpone their trip. They can also opt for a gift certificate if they don’t have new dates or want to go to a different destination."
A spokesperson for Lufthansa said the airline was "currently assessing the impact of the recent US Department of Homeland Security’s proclamation’s guidelines" on flights to the United States."
Delta stated Thursday evening that it was working to cap fares for travel from Europe and would assist passengers looking to return to the U.S. by waiving change fees. However, according to the airline's website, customers would still be required to cover any fare differences themselves.
"The safety and health of our customers and employees is always our highest priority," a spokesperson said in an email. "Delta has and will continue to quickly make adjustments to service, as needed, in response to government travel directives."
A State Department spokesperson advised only that U.S. citizens still overseas should plan to depart Europe using commercial travel options.
British Airways and United did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Neither did the White House or Department of Homeland Security.
Asked Thursday morning about confusion surrounding Trump's announcement, Mike Pence told CNN he did not believe there was any.
"I don't think there was confusion," he claimed. "The President took another historic step, just like he did in January with China."
Pence was referring to earlier travel restrictions put in place by the Trump administration in late January. Those restrictions barred entry to the United States by any foreign national from China or who'd recently been to China. U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents were also exempt from that ban.
This article has been updated to include additional statements from Delta and information from the State Department.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.