CHICAGO (CBS) — A trip abroad to visit a loved one turned into a big hassle for a southwest suburban family.
They reached out to CBS 2 after COVID-19 shut down the borders in Ecuador, and they found themselves trapped.
Days later, they told CBS 2’s Steven Graves how they finally made it home.
It was supposed to be a quick trip. In early March, Katherine Vega and her parents set out from Chicago to Quito – seeking to check on Vega’s great aunt’s health.
“It actually wasn’t related to coronavirus, but soon enough, the whole trip was affected by coronavirus,” Vega said.
That is because the country’s borders shut down. No one was allowed in, which meant canceled flights and a pushed-back departure date to the end of April.
“I was very frantically trying to get us out because I felt like my parents’ jobs depended on it,” Vega said.
Vega got to work, reaching out to local government officials. She thought for sure that the U.S. embassy in Ecuador would have answers – or not.
“Their advice was to contact commercial airlines, and there were no commercial airlines flying out of Quito,” Vega said.
She had to go to a support group on Facebook where hundreds of Americans stranded in Ecuador led her to a recently-added United Airlines flight. But she got nervous when no one could validate it.
“The embassy routinely denied that the flight existed,” Vega said.
It turned out it was real, but the embassy did not confirm it until the day before takeoff. Vega was left frustrated.
CBS 2 went to the embassy’s Facebook page to find she was not alone.
“We are constantly updating our embassy website with flight information,” said U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador Michael J. Fitzpatrick. “Whenever we get anything from any charter, any possibility, we put it right there.”
We checked, and that is currently true. But those flights aren’t free – travelers have to reimburse the government.
“So many obstacles,” Vega said.
But after hours of delays and more money spent, Vega is now at home.
“Ugh, I was so relieved,” she said.
Vega wants others to remember there are still others struggling to get back in need of help.
The State Department estimates about 13,000 Americans are still stranded abroad because of COVID-19.