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North Texas mom is stranded in Honduras and trying to get home

Patricia Maldonado has underlying health conditions and has been stuck since the Latin American nation declared a lockdown.

They are the ones left behind.

Patricia Maldonado, 57, is one of about 200 Americans stranded in Honduras after the COVID-19 outbreak led to canceled flights and the Honduran government shut its borders. They say they’ve been abandoned by their government and U.S. airlines.

But they’re not waiting around for someone to save them. A group has banded together on Facebook to try to find their own way out by chartering a private flight from a Honduran military base. Reached by phone, Maldonado, who has lupus, says she’s worried about her health and desperately wants to get back to her Carrollton home and her three children.

She and her children flew to Honduras for her father’s funeral at the beginning of March. Her children returned before the borders closed March 13.

“For me, my home is in the United States. I miss my children,” said Maldonado, who has high blood pressure in addition to a compromised immune system. “We are here and don’t know what to do or who to trust.”

She said she would run out of her blood pressure medication in about 20 days. People are not allowed to leave their homes, she said. Soldiers are in the streets enforcing the lockdown.

One U.S. State Department official said the agency had never before undertaken an “evacuation effort of such geographic breadth, scale and complexity.” More than 9,000 Americans have been repatriated from 28 countries, the official said, and the department is pledging to bring home “thousands more in the coming days and weeks.”

Maldonado has been staying with her brother and mother in the capital city of Tegucigalpa since her March 17 American Airlines flight back to Dallas on was canceled. She said the airline told her that it had stopped flying to Honduras and that flights wouldn’t resume until mid-May.

An American spokesperson said late Wednesday that the company was selling “repatriation flights” from three airports in Honduras to DFW International Airport on Thursday and Friday to “bring customers home.” Maldonado was checking on those. No additional flights were planned.

The airline said it would rebook without charge customers whose flights had been canceled.

Patricia Maldonado is among about 200 Americans still stranded in Honduras
Patricia Maldonado is among about 200 Americans still stranded in Honduras

Maldonado has faced other health challenges in her life. She is a cancer survivor. And as a chaplain at her church, she is generally optimistic and relies on her faith to get her through hard times. But she said she feels abandoned by her country and taken advantage of by airlines.

Flights have been announced with astronomical price tags, but when people get to the airport, they’re canceled, she said.

“Why give false hope to the people?” she asked.

One-way tickets home on United Airlines are scarce, often canceled after booking, and have been running as high as $3,000, she said.

Maldonado said she should not have to pay an additional $3,000 for a flight that cost her about $300.

“That is not right,” she said. “I pay my taxes. I never ask the United States, What can you give me?”

A United representative could not be reached for comment.

Maldonado, a hospitality director for Chick-fil-A, worries about when she’ll be able to earn a paycheck again and how she’ll make her next rent payment for the Carrollton apartment she shares with her two sons.

Evacuation

The U.S. Embassy in Honduras gave her forms to fill out online and put her on a list, she said. But officials there keep telling her there’s nothing they can do except email her information about possible flights that she said never materialize.

Although the country is in lockdown, the Honduran president has said all foreigners are allowed to leave, Maldonado said. An informal survey on a Facebook group for Americans stranded in Honduras put their number at around 200.

Ross Feinstein, an American Airlines spokesman, said in an email Tuesday that the Fort Worth-based company had tried to give as much notice as possible to customers but that sudden restrictions levied by foreign leaders had hurt its ability to operate in those countries.

“American continues to work with the U.S. State Department regarding options to assist our customers, along with other U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents,” he said in an email.

On Wednesday, news of more flights to cut-off locales across Latin America, some arranged by the U.S. military, began to trickle from the State Department’s website and Twitter feed.

Other, luckier Americans managed to catch earlier flights home, often by being in the right place at the right time — and through cooperation. They included some church missionaries and a U.S. women’s tackle football team who joined forces to make it aboard a U.S. military flight.

A group of former American military and intelligence officers pooled their resources to hire a U.S. security firm to arrange for a private flight out, according to news reports.

And others have hopped on aircraft sent by the State Department, as well as an Immigration and Customs Enforcement plane that happened to be dropping off deportees.

State Department officials, not wanting to go on the record, have said that special flights have been arranged for U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents in places where commercial flights are unavailable.

In the dark

Patricia’s son Jeffrey Maldonado, 34, said not even the fact that he has an uncle who’s a colonel in the Honduran military and another uncle in the Honduran government can help his mother return home. His uncles could probably get her to an airport, but unless airplanes can land, it’s of no use, he said.

Jeffrey, who flew home on March 11, said families were being kept in the dark. Misinformation is circulating online, and he worries that scammers may be trying to take advantage of desperate families.

“How is someone not taking charge of this?” he said. “There’s no plan.”

Jeffrey said he could not believe airlines would not try to fly home people who had reservations on the canceled flights.

“Do the right thing by your passengers,” he said. “A lot of people are very scared. They can’t stay there a month.”

Despite the frequent State Department alerts about flights, Jeffrey said he had gotten no indication that the U.S. government was actually working with the airlines “to figure something out.” He wonders: Could the U.S. military not send C-130 cargo planes, for example, to pick up its citizens?

But a State Department official said the agency was using all of its assets at home and abroad to “help ensure the safety and welfare of U.S. citizens overseas.” The department urged all U.S. citizens abroad to enroll in its Smart Traveler Enrollment Program so embassies and consulates can send them information about safety conditions and transportation options. Maldonado has enrolled in that program.

“The safety of U.S. citizens remains the Trump administration’s top priority, and we will continue to work to bring U.S. citizens home during this unprecedented time,” the official said.

Jeffrey Maldonado said he was concerned that his mother might become ill in Honduras, where the medical care is substandard and doctors do not have access to her medical records in Texas.

For now, Patricia Maldonado waits.

“It’s horrible. At least I’m with my family,” she said. “I’m a Christian and I’m praying.”

Kevin Krause. Kevin has worked for The Dallas Morning News since 2003, and he has covered federal criminal courts for the past six years. Kevin has been a journalist for 26 years. Kevin is a multiple recipient of the Stephen Philbin Award for excellence in legal reporting. Kevin earned a BA from Boston University.

kkrause@dallasnews.com @KevinRKrause
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