Las Vegas, Nev. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) joined U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) in cosponsoring legislation to protect Americans from high international travel costs when returning home from abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Repatriation Reimbursement Act would require U.S. commercial airlines and the State Department to reimburse and waive those travel costs associated with repatriating Americans.
“This spring, many Nevadans were virtually stranded abroad as the outbreak of coronavirus caused countries to close their borders and airlines to cancel flights. For many, getting home meant thousands of dollars in unanticipated expenses incurred through no fault of their own. We need to ensure airlines reimburse them for cancelled flights and honor original ticket prices and that the State Department waives fees so that being evacuated does not break the bank. I’ll keep fighting in the U.S. Senate to reduce the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Nevadans and ensure their safety everywhere.”
On March 19, the State Department issued a Level 4 Health Advisory instructing all Americans to avoid international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19. This travel advisory urged American citizens to seek commercial departure options to return to the United States unless they were prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period. Meanwhile, numerous countries closed their borders and airports, leaving Americans stranded without return options. This forced thousands of Americans trying to get home to pay exorbitantly high prices for any remaining tickets or sign promissory notes to the State Department to reimburse it for chartered flights.
Among other provisions, the Repatriation Reimbursement Act would require U.S. commercial airlines to provide cash reimbursements to Americans for any international flight to the United States cancelled or delayed more than 24 hours as a result of COVID-19, waive and reimburse change fees for replacing an international flight ticket, and prohibit airlines from charging passengers more for a replacement ticket than they paid for the original. The bill would apply to travel beginning on December 31, 2019 and ending on September 30, 2020. To reimburse these travel fees, the legislation authorizes passenger airlines to use the $25 billion in loans and loan guarantees appropriated in the CARES Act, but not the $25 billion in grants to keep workers paid.
The legislation would also require the State Department to waive travel expenses paid by the State Department for American citizens to return home, nullify any travel expense promissory notes these travelers needed to sign, reimburse American citizens for any international costs for travel to a foreign airport or domestic airport home, and require the State Department to create an online claim reimbursement system. The legislation would apply to the State Department for COVID-19 as well as future pandemics or international crises. To reimburse or waive these travel costs, the legislation authorizes the State Department to use any funding made available in any appropriations Act enacted after March 1, 2020.
The full text of the legislation is available here.