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Windows of Opportunity: Getting Team Members Home in the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Joe Gleason, AHT Director, Risk Management Services


The sudden imposition of COVID-19 related travel restrictions around the globe in recent weeks has left organizations scrambling to respond. Many of the restrictions were announced with little notice, and any remaining departure flights filled up quickly, leaving thousands of travelers and international assignees stranded outside their home countries.

In an effort to resolve this unintended consequence of travel restrictions, a number of countries are allowing governments and assistance providers to organize charter flights to repatriate these travelers. In recent days the US Government has arranged flights from Pakistan planned for April 1, and the Canadian government is coordinating flights for their nationals stranded in Morocco. For organizations seeking to return personnel to their home countries, it will be important to take advantage of these opportunities to depart – before the window closes.

Steps to consider:

  • Assess needs – who is where and who needs to be return to home countries… team members, as well as any dependents. Given the travel restrictions in place in many countries, people will need to return to their country of citizenship or permanent residence.
  • Monitor events closely with a range of sources, including media, assistance providers, government authorities and local security information networks to help identify when windows of opportunity for travel may be opening.
  • Ensure personnel enroll in the STEP program (US nationals) or similar systems to receive communications from home country authorities. Where these programs don’t exist, register with the appropriate embassy for similar communications.
  • Communicate with assistance providers to understand their capabilities and plans for organizing departure flights; early communication with assistance providers helps them understand how many people need to depart and plan flights appropriately where possible.
  • Prepare to depart at short notice. Pack necessary personal and professional items, secure offices and residences, arrange to pay rent, utilities remotely, as needed, etc.
  • Ensure all documents needed for departure are in place and that details are provided to the coordinating organization (government or assistance provider) in advance.

In all cases, it’s essential to understand the details of any planned departure. In most cases, travelers planning to depart will need to provide passport information and other details in advance and receive confirmation they are manifested on the flight – i.e. don’t just show up at the airport and expect to get on a plane. Other important details may include: instructions for arrival at the airport or other staging area, limits on luggage, instructions for onward travel beyond the initial destination, etc. Those taking flights arranged for by the US Government may be required to pay in advance for the flight or sign a promissory note.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, so will the related travel and other operational challenges. As has been the case since the start of this outbreak, it’s important to closely monitor developments, assess risks and respond accordingly. For organizations needing to get people back “home,” that may mean taking advantage of any open departure windows… before they close.

For additional information and resources, please visit AHT’s dedicated COVID-19 page.