Travelers stranded in Honduras search for ways to get home

Planes parked at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport as Delta cuts flights. (Photo: Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport)

Planes parked at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport as Delta cuts flights. (Photo: Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport)

Travelers from metro Atlanta are stuck at a resort in Roatan, Honduras, after their Delta flights were canceled due to border closures, and are searching for ways to get home as conditions deteriorate.

Airlines suspended flights after the Honduran government announced the closure of its borders, then announced a curfew where those outside without a legitimate reason could be arrested.

Grocery stores and pharmacies in general are closed, with only some open a few hours a day.

Sharon and Vernon Alford, who live in Dawsonville and are staying at the Paya Bay resort in Roatan, are worried because Vernon was diagnosed with late-stage cancer last year and is supposed to start a round of chemotherapy on Thursday.

“We thought this was going to be a one-week celebration. We got the go-ahead from his doctor ... (who) said ‘Sure, go ahead, have a good time,’” said 57-year-old Sharon Alford. “We thought, ‘Oh, it’ll be all right, It’s only a week.’ ... Who knew the world changed quickly so fast?”

It's one of many examples of passengers getting stuck overseas after flight cancellations as borders rapidly close to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Alfords arrived on March 14 and were supposed to fly out Saturday, March 21, after a week at the resort. But that flight was canceled and they were rescheduled to fly out on the next available flight, which wasn’t until March 28.

However by Saturday, Delta Air Lines had canceled the flight on the 28th too, with Honduran airports closed to most international traffic.

Atlanta-based Delta acknowledged the flight has been canceled and declined to comment.

Some passengers have managed to get rebooked on other airlines’ flights leaving later this month, “but how quickly they’re canceling flights, we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Sharon Alford said.

This group of travelers is stuck in Roatan, Honduras after flights were canceled. Left to right: Rick Harmon, Joannie Heath, Gerald Smith, Elisa Smith, Carol Rittenhouse, Wendi Washowich, Sharon Alford and Todd Washowich, with Vernon Alford in front

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The State Department in a comment to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said: “We are aware the governments of several countries have announced suspension of air travel. We are considering all options to assist U.S. citizens in these countries.”

The U.S. Embassy in Honduras on its website says  "While we are exploring all options to address the current travel disruptions, we strongly encourage U.S. citizens to continue working with their airline and/or travel arranger to confirm flight options. ... Travelers with health concerns are encouraged to communicate with air carriers directly."

The United States issued a level 3 health advisory on March 11, telling U.S. citizens to reconsider travel abroad due to the global impact of COVID-19, the new coronavirus — because of quarantines in some areas and the possibility of travel restrictions in others.

On March 19, the advisory was raised to level 4, advising U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the coronavirus.

Vice President Mike Pence, during a briefing Saturday, said the State Department has been working with embassies and has made efforts to bring home about 3,000 Americans. “We’re going to work very diligently to get our Americans home,” he said.

Some evacuation flights from Honduras have been able to operate. The U.S. military's Southern Command released footage showing members of a women's football team being evacuated Friday from Honduras to Charleston, South Carolina, on a U.S. Air Force C-130.

The Alfords have booked a medical evacuation flight for $1,300 to $1,800 per person to try to return to the U.S. on Sunday.

“We don’t even know if it’s legit. We just got our hopes up that we could get out of here,” Alford said. The flight would take them to Miami, then they’d need to get from Miami back to Atlanta.

She said workers at the resort have “limited resources” as the tourism industry loses business with no tourists coming in during their busy season. “The people here are super, they’re so kind and generous, but we see the worry on their faces,” she said.

Wendi Washowich, a Woodstock resident in Roatan with her husband, Todd, and the group with the Alfords, said, “Our concerns are growing daily.”

She’s an insurance agent and an executive at her firm has been in communication with U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s office to work on repatriation efforts.

“They’re aware of our situation,” Washowich said. “It’s a waiting game at this point with the U.S. government.”

Meanwhile, Washowich is worried because her husband is running out of his heart medication and the pharmacy there doesn’t stock it.

“Right now we’re just rationing,” Washowich said. She said they’ve had to pay for an extra week at the resort, and that people “feel abandoned by Delta and have also rebooked on other airlines in hopes that those flights are able to land and take us out.”

“Everybody’s worried,” said Gerald Smith, another traveler in the group, who is from Anderson, South Carolina. “Things are getting desperate.”