The U.S. State Department has chartered two flights Monday to begin evacuating hundreds of Americans who are stranded in Guatemala.
Guatemala suspended all air travel except for cargo flights on March 16 in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus.
“We do not know when civilian flights will resume in Guatemala after these U.S. government-coordinated charter flights, but urge travelers to continue to check the availability of commercial flight options,” the State Department said.
While the department encourages Americans abroad to travel commercially when possible, the virus has made that more difficult.
On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence said the State Department had brought 3,000 Americans home from countries where they were stranded.
Pence, speaking to reporters at the White House, urged Americans abroad to enroll in the department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program by going to the program’s website or by calling 888-407-4747.
On Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters at the White House that the department had established a repatriation task force to help Americans trapped outside the country.
“We’re trying to get Americans back from these places where air travel has been disrupted,” he said. “And we’ll get that done over time. We’ll get it done successfully.”
Three chartered flights left Morocco for the United States on Saturday. Those boarding the flights signed a promissory note to reimburse the federal government for $1,485 at a later date. Federal law requires Americans to pay for the cost of their tickets. The State Department says the cost of the tickets may be higher than commercial fares.
A flight with 264 Americans on board departed Lima, Peru, on Saturday. The department said it would arrange for additional charter flights in the coming week.
The State Department said Sunday that anyone needing to board the repatriation flights from Guatemala will need to come to Guatemala City, as the flights may depart on short notice.
The department said Americans should wait for word from the U.S. Embassy before heading for the airport: “You will not be permitted to enter the airport without confirmation from the U.S. Embassy of a seat on the flight.”
No one with flu-like symptoms will be allowed to board, the department added.
Seats are prioritized for U.S. citizens and their family members, and legal permanent residents.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: US charters flights to evacuate Americans from Guatemala