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Travel ban forces Utah family to make quick decision en route to Paris

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Airplanes land at the International Airport of Brasilia.

Eraldo Peres, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — After hearing that the Trump administration restricted travel from Europe because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Christensen family cut its long-awaited trip to Paris short — while on the runway.

The family had already boarded a connecting flight in Montreal and was on the tarmac about to take off Wednesday when they got the news.

“Me, my five brothers, Mom and Dad, and wife Bailey, were all on the runway there, and right about to take off. And the captain came over the live speaker and said we had a slight delay. We were waiting to hear back from air traffic control,” Ryland Christensen, of Lindon, said.

“And then we turned on our phones and saw the announcement and everything, and they said, ‘If you’re an American on board, you can get off, or you’ll have to deal with the 30-day announcement that President Trump had made.’ So here we are, off the plane.” 

President Donald Trump on Wednesday imposed a 30-day restriction on travel from Europe for foreign nationals as a way to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus. 

Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney issued a statement late Wednesday saying they are trying to get more information from the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security for Utahns and their family members who are currently abroad and wish to return.

While the restrictions do not apply to U.S. citizens, the administration has indicated Americans may be subject to screening in order to return and will be directed to a limited number of airports where screening can take place, according to the senators.

The senators urged Americans abroad to register with the State Department’s STEP program, a free service that allows the government to contact them directly with the latest information on travel to the U.S. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified 11 airports where U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents and certain members of their family would be allowed to enter the country. The Salt Lake City International Airport is not among them.

Also, Delta Air Lines will suspend flights from Salt Lake City to Paris, Amsterdam and London Heathrow after Friday. Delta has has waived change fees for travelers to, from or through Europe and the United Kingdom through May 31.

Christensen said his mother-in-law, Stephanie Nixon, let the family know if they landed in Paris, they’d be stuck there much longer than expected.

About 35 to 40 Americans chose to deplane, including about 20 high school students traveling together, according to Christensen. 

“I’m not gonna lie, at first it was quite a bit of frustration and anger, because we’d had the trip planned for a while to get over to Paris, and explore over there,” he said. “But being over there for 30 days, it’s a long time to be away, and we knew we had to come home and handle things at home, as well.”

The family found themselves in Montreal on Wednesday night trying figure out a way back to Utah. 

Nixon said although the family had been “super excited” for the trip for a long time, she was relieved they would stay safe. She praised the pilot for allowing the Americans to get off the plane.

Contributing: Marc Giauque