Jan Siefert, a mechanical engineering student from Germany who has been studying at Auburn, drove to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Saturday to try to reschedule his flight back to Heidelberg. (Photo: Yamil Berard/AJC)

Flight cancellations leave European passengers at Atlanta airport stranded

New flight cancellations and restrictions are leaving a number of people who hoped to return home to Europe stranded here.

Several who had expected to travel back to Germany over the next several days showed up at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Saturday afternoon after discovering that their flights on Lufthansa airline were canceled. The German airline announced Friday that it was slashing its flight schedule even further to deal with the impact of the coronavirus, but the passengers said they received no notice from the airline and learned of the cancellations only after they checked the flight status.

Unable to get through to a booking agent to reschedule their flights, they said drove to the airport to try to book with an agent at the terminal.

» RELATED: Trump administration expands Europe travel restrictions to UK, Ireland

Patty Schneider arrived in Georgia about a week ago to visit her 86-year-old ailing mother. Schneider grew up in Roswell but has lived for 30 years in a town near Frankfurt and Cologne. Her husband and children are in Germany waiting for her to return.

She said her flight to Atlanta was only two-thirds full when it is usually jam-packed with passengers. She said she probably would not have traveled had she know that there was a possibility of not being able to return to Germany.

“I’m just hoping now I don’t get stuck,’’ she said.

After she spoke to a Lufthansa agent, she was told she would be able to depart on a flight on March 23 but that there was a likelihood that the flight could be canceled later on, she said.

» RELATED: Delta cuts more flights to Europe

Jan Siefert, a graduate mechanical engineer student, was particularly frustrated. He was scheduled to appear in front of professors at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology to defend his master’s thesis on March 27. If he can’t make it, he said it would jeopardize a six-year program of study, he said.

He was in the U.S. through a study abroad program at Auburn University and drove to the airport from Auburn to try to reschedule his flight back to Heidelberg.

“If I cannot defend my thesis, I will spend another year in the university not being able to do anything,” he said.

A couple who identified themselves only as Jeannette and Stefan said they came to Atlanta two weeks ago to vacation and learned Saturday that their flight back to Germany had been canceled. They were supposed to leave on Monday and went to the airport after not being able to reach the airline on the phone.

This couple who hoped to return to Europe were among passengers who went to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport Saturday after their flights were canceled. They hoped to talk to someone who could rebook their flights. Otherwise, the airport’s international terminal was largely empty on Saturday. (Photo: Yamil Berard/AJC)

Lufthansa had a ticket counter person trying to answer questions.

Meanwhile, the terminals early Saturday afternoon were eerily empty. A few passengers sat around wheeling suitcases. Some passengers and ticket agents had on masks.

Despite concern over the coronavirus, some passengers said they were not screened as they returned to the U.S.

A North Carolina couple back from the Bahamas said they had not been screened for symptoms when they arrived at the airport. The couple, who would not provide their names, wore masks and said they had taken their own safety precautions but had no problem going through Customs. They were planning to drive back home to North Carolina.

“We know there’s a lot of fear in the international community over this but we are taking our own precautions,” the woman said.

Earlier in the week, Trump announced that he was banning flights from continental Europe as of midnight Friday. Saturday, the Trump administration expanded the travel restrictions to the United Kingdom and Ireland.

In announcing the latest restrictions, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said that U.S. citizens will be allowed to return but that they will be subject to medical screening and will be asked to self-quarantine for 14 days.

» AJC’s complete coverage of the coronavirus

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