In the last week, the situation in Afghanistan rapidly changed as the US began to pull out embassy personnel and those Americans still in country rapidly saw flight options to also leave dwindle. The situation at the airport was chaotic, to say the least, and many Americans were left with no clear direction or option. Finally, the US government started flights – but was making American citizens sign a promissory note for $2,000 for the flight.
US Changes Stance on $2,000 Flights From Afghanistan
By now, many people have seen the photos, videos and stories from Kabul that included things like an American C17A with a reported 800 Afghan people onboard. However, there are still a reported number of thousands of Americans in country (likely humanitarian workers, contractors, journalists, etc) and with many airlines suspending flights, getting out of Afghanistan was not easy.
When the US government arranges charters out of countries, they always have the option of making citizens sign promissory notes before boarding for the flight. If that note is not paid, they are typically unable to renew their passport. Of course, for someone that is trying to flee a potentially deadly situation, that is not at all a point of concern so many would just do that. Last year, due to Covid, there was one charter flight leaving Iraq that the US was telling people would cost $3,500!
In this case, the American government was telling citizens that wanted flights out that they would be on the hook for $2,000 for the flight. This was something met with shock and outrage online. There will always be finger pointing on this issue but it is clear that the US final removal of personnel, closing the embassy and vacating Bagram Air Basedwas at the very least an instigator for the current situation. Without warning to Americans on the ground (by the way, this is why you should always fill out the STEP form when traveling – that would normally be a help), they were effectively cut-off from any US help inside the country when things started shifting.
This is what was the original, official word:
Eligibility Requirements: U.S. Citizenship: The U.S. Embassy will prioritize U.S. citizens for any charter flights.
U.S. citizens with a non-citizen spouse or unmarried children (under age 21) may include their family members in their repatriation assistance requests but should indicate each family member’s citizenship and whether each has a valid passport and/or a U.S. visa.
If you are a non-U.S. citizen parent of a U.S. citizen minor, please indicate whether you have appropriate travel documentation to enter the United States (i.e. valid U.S. visa). If you do not have appropriate travel documentation, please identify an individual who currently has valid travel documentation who could accompany your U.S. citizen minor. U.S. lawful permanent residents may submit a repatriation assistance request, and their request will be considered depending on availability.
Flight Costs: Repatriation flights are not free, and passengers will be required to sign a promissory loan agreement and may not be eligible to renew their U.S. passports until the loan is repaid. The cost may be $2,000USD or more per person. Travel Documents: All passengers should have valid travel documents required for entry into the United States (e.g. U.S. passports or visas)
Finally, the government backed down on this and said that people will not need to pay for the flight, including those that had already signed the note to depart.
But, they also have this to say:
U.S. government-provided flights are departing Kabul and will continue until the evacuation operation is complete. U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents (LPRs), and their spouses and unmarried children (under age 21) should consider travelling to Hamid Karzai International Airportwhen you judge it is safe to do so. The U.S. government cannot ensure safe passage to the airport.
Good luck to all those who are trying to get back home and I hope they are able to do it soon.