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The Last Leg, Akron Resident on His Struggle to Return Home

airline flight departures listing
Ruben Luevano
The departure listing for flights leaving Manila at Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Ruben Luevano was one of the lucky stranded travelers to find a flight to the U.S. that had not been cancelled.

Being stranded anywhere is a cause for concern. Being stranded halfway across the world during a pandemic takes that concern to a whole other level.

That’s what happened to Akron resident and Kent State University employee Ruben Luevano. He was in the Philippines with his fiancée and her family back in March when the world basically shutdown because of the coronavirus. Yesterday we heard his story of how months later, he had just left to travel via ferry to Manila. We check in with Luevano one last time as he completes his journey home.

Finally at the Airport
I want to make sure that I get to the airport really early, so I left probably about 8 o'clock and my flight I don't think was until about 3:00 p.m. or so. I'm one of the first people in line at ANA, which is the airline I was flying. And I'm finally at the front counter and I'm presenting my ticket and my passport, and I'm thinking in my mind. OK, I'm on my way to North America. I'm just about there. I'm almost out of here. I'm almost free. And the gate attendant is looking through my passport and my ticket. He kind of gets a strange look on his face, and he says he'd be right back and he walks away. About a minute later he comes back and he tells me, "I'm sorry Sir, but we can't let you on this flight."

At this point, I'm really internally kind of freaking out, and I ask the gate attendant why I can't board this flight. And he basically informs me that the Canadian government has closed all of its transitions through the airport except for Canadian citizens and legal residents. And even though I'm an American citizen, just transitioning through the Vancouver airport into the United States, I am not allowed to enter Canada because I am not a Canadian citizen or legal resident.

Ruben Luevano
Ruben Luevano
Ruben Luevano takes a photo while at the airport in Manila. By shear luck, he was able to find a flight back to the U.S. after his original flight had refused to let him board.

Exhausted All Options
I tell him I have nowhere else to go. I have exhausted everything to just even get to Manila, and he then says he's going to talk to his supervisors and see what they can figure out. They basically wind up calling the Canadian government, and the Canadian government said, "No, I'm sorry, he cannot transition through our country." And at that point there's nothing they can do. They can't allow me to fly on their airline because I will just be turned around and and sent back.

So now I walk away from the counter, and I start to try to formulate some type of game plan. And I know one thing I cannot do is I cannot leave the airport because the only way you get inside the airport is with a valid ticket, which is no longer valid for me, and your passport. So I'm thinking to myself, if I have to live at the airport, I will do it.

I go calm down. I grab some food, and I start going to some of the other airlines just inquiring about being able to leave Manila. And I have to say that I got really lucky when I got to the Philippine Airlines, that they did have an actual flight that had not been canceled for that day to San Francisco, leaving around 9:30 at night. And I was extremely lucky that they did have some extra seats, and I wound up gathering every financial resource that I had: credit cards, savings, money that had been raised by friends and family for me. And I wound up buying a ticket for that day on Philippine Airlines, and I was able to finally leave that same day in the evening.

Hello USA
When I finally touched down at San Francisco International Airport, it was an eerie feeling. The airport itself was completely desolate, not very many people at all. It was very empty. Nothing was open. I was extremely happy to be home, yet I was missing everything I had been through with my fiancée and her family. I was torn basically between two worlds, two families. A new family and an old identity that I had to get back to as soon as possible, back in Ohio.

What I take away from my experience being stranded in the Philippines is basically gratitude. Gratitude on so many levels. Gratitude for my friends and family for being there for me. I'm grateful for being able to make it back home. I'm grateful for health. I'm grateful for my loved ones being safe. I'm grateful for survival. I'm grateful to be back home, and I'm grateful for having hope for the future in a world where the pandemic will be a thing of the past.

Ruben Luevano
The connecting flight from Chicago to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Ruben was finally home.

Luevano is now back home and has returned to his position as an electronic technician at Kent State. This is the last of a three-part series on Luevano's experience with returning home from the Philippines.

These stories were produced by WKSU's Jon Nungesser.