Stuck in Syracuse

International students stuck in Syracuse

As airlines cut flights due to COVID-19, some students worry about how they will get back home.
Published: April 22, 2020 | Updated: May 19th, 2020 at 10:55 am
Lubeini Yang and Suyun Chen cook in their south campus apartment

Freshman Lubeini Yang was glued to her iPhone, Suyun Chen looking over her shoulder. “Buy it, buy it!” said Chen in Mandarin. They had gotten a notification that there was a new flight to China. Yang scurried her thumb around her screen, the limbs of her bear plushie phone case swaying as she scrambled to buy two tickets. A few moments later, she sighed. The flight was sold out.

The roommates had been trying almost every day to secure a flight home since classes at Syracuse University moved online to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Together, the freshmen have accumulated around $16,000 in flight credit from American Airlines and Air China after four of their flights were canceled.

Now, before they can hope a flight doesn’t get canceled, seats are filling to their allowed capacity within a few minutes, leaving the two friends stuck in Syracuse indefinitely.

Just one flight operates per week from New York to Yang’s hometown of Yunnan, China. Yang said there is a rumor that airlines are prioritizing people who are willing to pay more for their tickets.

“The percentage of seats cannot go above 75%, which means that, if you try to buy your ticket below the average price, they will [reject it,]” said the drama major.

The roommates are not alone in their struggle to catch flights back home. About 750 of as many as 800 students left on campus are international students, according to South Campus Residence Director Tim Gray.

Yang and Chen have been living on South Campus after their dorm halls, Boland and Shaw Hall respectively, closed per SU’s administrators’ efforts to consolidate remaining students.

While their desire to return home outweighs any of their reservations, the freshman fear potentially catching the virus on the 3-plane journey home.

“We are worried about things like the airport because there are too many people. I think that’s dangerous,” said Chen. “When you get on board, that’s also very dangerous because you need to stay in the airplane for a long time.”

When Yang and Chen are able to make it back, they will have to spend at least 14 days in quarantine.

Chen says she will pass quarantine by spending time with her mother learning how to cook. “I talk to my mom every day,” said the psychology major. “She urges me to buy the tickets, and I just always say that I wasn’t able to buy the tickets.”

Like for many Syracuse students, the freshmen’s transition to online classes has been bizarre. Yang says she has a yoga class that requires her to record herself following her professor’s yoga tutorial, then upload the footage to BlackBoard for her professor to assess.

The drama major has also had her stage production class canceled, preventing her from getting experience in the crew and production aspect of her major. Yang said that if the online class structure was extended to the fall semester, she would miss out on a lot of acting and stage experience.

Still, if classes were canceled in the fall, Yang said, she wouldn’t feel angry because she would understand that it’s for everyone’s safety. “And everyone is going through the same thing all over the world.”

No way home
May 19, 2020 12:00 am

The prevalence of coronavirus forced students to look for ways to return home since residential classes ended in March. But returning home has become dangerous and challenging for some SU international students.

Liqi Ma, a freshman from China studying television, radio & film at the Newhouse School, had several cancellations of potential flights that left her to stay in a South Campus apartment for the remainder of the semester. While she joined all students in online learning, classes such as her TRF 205 course were difficult as filming during lockdown was nearly impossible.

Avatar for Meilin Quinn

is a reporter for The NewsHouse. She studies economics and journalism.