Buffalo Grove family left in limbo in Dominican Republic when flights canceled

If luck is with the Shoichets, they'll be home in Buffalo Grove this weekend.

But as of Saturday, the family of four still were among the collateral damage of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic along with other Americans stranded in the Dominican Republic.

"We were supposed to fly home today on United - our flight (was) canceled yesterday, and that's the last we've heard from United," Eliott Shoichet said in an email Thursday. He "spent hours on hold with (United) without getting through."

Shoichet managed to book a Saturday flight to Boston with Delta Air Lines, but the extra travel expenses came to about $3,000.

The Dominican Republic suspended all incoming flights on March 19 for 15 days in order to reduce spread of COVID-19, leaving myriad vacationers in the lurch.

Shoichet said there were no travel restrictions between the U.S. and Dominican Republic on March 13 when he, his wife and their two children, a college student and sixth-grader left.

"Yes, of course, we debated whether to cancel, but based on all the available information, and honestly, on the fact this spring break trip was planned months in advance and nonrefundable, we decided the risk was worth taking and if worse comes to worst, United will bring us home no matter what."

The family did appeal to U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider's office, which assisted.

"We are taking calls from all over the world" from stranded travelers, the Deerfield Democrat said Friday. "We reach out to the airlines and the State Department when we can, depending on the circumstances."

Shoichet said he couldn't fathom why other airlines like Delta and American were able to pick up stranded passengers.

United officials said after the government's order their jets were unable to fly to the Dominican Republic.

"Due to government mandates or restrictions in place prohibiting international travel, airlines are currently barred from flying to many countries," a United spokesman said Saturday. "We are monitoring the individual situations in these countries and evaluating our options given the various governmental restrictions in place."

The coronavirus epidemic gives airlines "wide latitude to make last-minute changes, which leaves consumers in limbo," DePaul University transportation professor Joseph Schwieterman said.

"After this crisis is over, there will be vigorous debate about the difficulties of reaching by phone both airlines and third-party booking agencies. Some consumers spent inordinate amounts of time trying to change their flights," he said.

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