About the Author: Mary Ellen Hickey serves as the Managing Director for the Office of Overseas Citizen Services in the Bureau of Consular Affairs.
The Department of State is sympathetic to the thousands of travelers who have been unable to get to their destinations because of the volcanic ash cloud in Europe that has hindered air traffic. We are in close contact with the European authorities at all times and are doing everything possible to assist stranded U.S. citizens who require emergency consular assistance.
We offer these suggestions for travelers stranded in Europe due to airport closures:
* Stay up to date with the news to see which airports are open and which are closed.
* Keep checking in with your airlines.
* Check in with a travel agency. They should have up-to-date information about alternatives to airplane travel. If you used a travel agency, please check to see if you are covered by an insurance policy for this type of emergency.
* Stay in touch with loved ones to keep them informed of your whereabouts and well-being.
The Department of State is not evacuating U.S. citizens at this time. U.S. Government evacuation options are constrained by the same factors that are affecting commercial transportation. Furthermore, U.S. Government-facilitated travel by sea would take time to arrange and undertake, by which point commercial travel is likely to have resumed. The cost to travelers to repay an evacuation loan would be equivalent to the commercial rates for cross-Atlantic sea travel.
We understand that this situation is frustrating and expensive for travelers and their friends and family. If you or your loved one has run out of money and is unable to get access to funds in Europe, the Department of State can help you send money. You may find out more information about options here.
For those who are stranded and have run out of cash and credit, we have a limited amount of emergency loans that may be available, but they come with two very important conditions as required by U.S. law -- first, you have to have run out of private sources, and second, you need to know that we will limit your passport validity until you can repay the loan. The application for the emergency loan must be made at the nearest U.S. embassy.
Our embassies and consulates in Europe are maintaining their websites with as much up-to-date information about local conditions as possible.
Keep following the U.S. embassy website of the country where you are staying. Embassy and consulate websites are being updated to provide local news. You can find lists of hotels, including low cost accommodations, and medical services, such as prescription refills, on those websites. Here are just a few: