Utah family hasn’t seen father in nearly 1,000 days due to COVID-19 travel restrictions

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SHANGHAI — The last time Emsley Helms hugged her father was when she dropped him off at the airport after celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday in 2019. He boarded a flight to start his journey home to Shanghai, where he has lived for about a decade.

“None of us were expecting to not see him three years later,” Helms said.

Helms’ father had plans to visit in March 2020 for her sister’s birthday but that trip was postponed due to the pandemic. The family has since tried to rebook his trip, but his flights continued to be canceled.

“The flight my dad has been trying to book has been canceled four times,” she said. “If there are any positive cases on flights going back to China, that flight is either canceled or delayed.”

The cancellations have created a snowball effect and ultimately hikes ticket prices, Helms said. Before the pandemic, her father would visit Utah every four months for about $700 round trip.

“Flights are like $15,000 right now, averaging,” Helms said. “Sometimes they are $11,000; sometimes they are $20,000. And even if you book it, it is not a guarantee that you will get your money back if the flight is canceled.”

She is sharing her story to let other families who have loved ones in China know that they are not alone. She is hopeful that COVID-19 travel restrictions there will be lifted in the near future as her family approaches 1,000 days of not being able to see their father.

“I also hope airlines realize what hiking these prices are doing and how it’s making it impossible for families to see each other,” Helms said. “The same for governmental affairs or people in the government to realize and want to make an active step to reunite families again.”

For now, the family has to resort to FaceTime calls to communicate with their father but are praying they can have their next gathering in-person.

“It’s just different when you are talking on FaceTime versus seeing him in person,” Helms said. “I miss having him physically in front of me, being able to give him a hug, and for him to hug me back.”

“I really miss his hugs,” she said.


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Ashley Moser

Ashley Moser joined KSL in January 2016. She co-anchors KSL 5 Live at 5 with Mike Headrick and reports for the KSL 5 News at 10.

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