Coronavirus Outbreak: San Francisco International Airport brace for travelers leaving US for European travel ban

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KGO) -- San Francisco International Airport was noticeably empty Friday morning, just hours before President Trump's ban on travel from 26 European countries goes into effect at 11:59 p.m.

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"It's like a ghost town, New Orleans is the same way. It's a ghost town. It's a shame," said Steve Giordano.

Giordano is making his way back to Vancouver. He stopped in the Bay Area to visit a friend after finishing a work trip in New Orleans.

The international terminal was barren Friday morning.

No need to have TSA Pre-check to get through security lines, they were empty.

But for those who did show up confusion and frustration.
In the afternoon, many travelers flocked to SFO just looking to get home.

Nearly 12 hours before, some people are still trying to head overseas.

RELATED: Coronavirus Impact: US implements European travel ban, what about domestic travel restrictions?

"98 phone calls to the airlines and I got through," Joch Woodruff said. "I changed the airplane ticket twice. This was on Wednesday night and Thursday morning and then I made arrangements to get a flight from Vegas to here with our eight suitcases."

A group was enjoying a fun bachelorette party in the Bay Area when news that the Canadian Prime Minister's wife came down with Coronavirus.

And even though they had three days left scheduled on their trip, they decided to play it safe and head back home.

"If our Prime Minister's wife hadn't tested positive with Coronavirus, maybe we wouldn't be running home so fast," Karen Brar said. "With that, I'm sure there will be other precautions that come through at the border and we just don't want to be stuck here."

It was easy for Brar to change her flight with Air Canada.
In fact, while most of the San Francisco International Airport ticket agents weren't seeing too much traffic twelve hours before the travel bans went into effect, Lufthansa Airlines was a different story.

Daria Pilarczyck was at a work conference when word broke that travel to Europe will be halted.

She immediately worked to change her accommodations to not be stuck in the states... that's when the confusion set in.

"Lufthansa said that we should rebook our flights on the internet," Pilarczyck said. "The internet says to call the hotline. The hotline says to go back to the internet. This is the loop. We cannot reschedule our flights from the internet or the phone."

So she, and dozens of other passengers, waited in line for hours to make the changes to their flights.

Bay Area resident, Sachin Yadav, had similar struggles.

He is trying to cancel a flight to India and had to travel from Mountain View to SFO to do so because call centers were shut down.
"It's been a nightmare," Yadav said. "As human-beings, we can deal with any situation if we know what we are dealing with. But here, we unfortunately don't know what we are dealing with. Every few hours things are evolving and different companies are enacting different policies and restrictions. My itinerary in the last 24 hours has been changed and now it is just cancelled."

Lufthansa's website says they are trying to increase capacity for service centers and asks for patience during this changing time.

For most, home is considered to be a more comforting place to be in times of uncertainty like these.

However, with the growing pandemic in some European countries, some travelers say being in the U.S. may actually be better overall.

"I think it's pretty safe here, but we have to fly back," One traveler said. "California is probably better than Germany, but I just want to go home."

"It's worse back home and here it's fine," Selome Jaquier said. "We choose to not be fearful and to just continue life. We have to continue life so we're just going on."

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San Francisco International Airport was noticeably empty this Friday morning, just hours before President Trump's ban on travel from 26 European countries goes into effect at 11:59 p.m.

Cornelia Kessler is trying to get back to Austria after a vacation in Hawaii. She said she was caught off guard by President Trump's ban on travel announced Wednesday night in an oval office address.

"First inform that travelers then make the ban and not make a ban so nobody can go home," said Kessler, about the President's swift and unexpected announcement.

While there is no ban on travel to Europe currently, her flight by Swiss Airlines is canceled - the ripple effect of airlines bracing to take a hit.

Others are having a tough time getting airlines to call them back.

It's been reported that airlines are experiencing longer than normal wait times and many waive ticket change and cancellation fees.

Shannon Harkless came to the SFO to speak to someone directly after her group of 20 women she is a part of decided to postpone a vacation to Phuket, Thailand.

She waited four hours for a call back from Emirates airlines and said she never got one.

"They did not call me back. I called them back and it was 45 minutes to tell me they were unable to do anything" said Harkless.

CORONAVIRUS IMPACT: US implements European travel ban, what about domestic travel restrictions?
With the State Department recommending Americans not travel abroad, there are worry restrictions on travel from state-to-state that could be next by the Trump.

Trump suggested at the White House Thursday that banning travel to certain states is an option that's on the table.

"We haven't discussed that yet - is it a possibility yes?" said President Trump, "If somebody gets a little out of control if an area gets too hot."

Frequent flyers like Giordano are concerned.

"I think it's an overreaction personally," he said.

RELATED: How to change your travel plans amid the global COVID-19 outbreak

And with fewer passengers moving through SFO, vendors are also taking a hit.

Sophear Touch is a baggage wrapper at the international terminal and says business has slowed drastically.

"Could be a hundred bags to wrap every single day before, but now it's just really like 10, 20" said Touch.

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