Global airlines are struggling to comply with new travel restrictions after being caught flat-footed by President Donald Trump’s executive order blocking visitors from seven predominantly Muslim nations.

U.S. carriers didn’t get advance notice of the travel ban or briefings from government officials on how it should be implemented, people familiar with the matter said.

The order was causing chaos at airports in the U.S. and abroad as border agents blocked travelers from entering the country and airlines barred visa-holders from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, as well as people from those countries who are lawful U.S. residents, from getting on planes to the country.

“We are aware of the directive and are working with the federal government to comply,” United Continental Holdings Inc. spokesman Luke Punzenberger said in a statement.

The president’s order has the potential to impose costs on the airlines, which are struggling to understand its terms, said Robert Mann, president of aviation consultancy R.W. Mann & Co. Carriers are responsible for returning passengers to where their travel began if they were brought to the U.S. improperly, he said.

“It’s very confusing for airlines,” he said in an interview. “They literally don’t have a reference point now on how they can accommodate their customers.”

Airlines follow a detailed set of government regulations specifying who is allowed into the U.S. Based on news reports, Mann said it appears that Trump issued his order without giving carriers a chance to change their existing rule books.

Airline Reaction

Airlines worldwide reacted to Trump’s order on Saturday:

  • Delta Air Lines Inc. said it would contact customers affected by the ban about rebooking options including refunds, according to a statement by the carrier detailing the new travel restrictions.
  • Emirates, the world’s biggest long-haul carrier, is providing similar assistance. “A very small number of our passengers traveling were affected by the new U.S. immigration entry requirements implemented by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection today,” the Dubai-based company said in a prepared statement.
  • British Airways is offering affected customers “a refund for their travel to the U.S.” and will give passengers the option of rebooking flights. WestJet Airlines Ltd., Canada’s second-largest carrier, is providing full refunds to customers barred from the U.S. Air Canada is waiving change fees and allowing refunds.

American Airlines Group Inc. and industry trade group Airlines for America declined to comment, referring questions to the U.S. government.

Immigration Lawyers

“It is imperative we find the right balance between security and facilitation, and we stand ready to support the administration and Congress to achieve this goal,” said Roger Dow, chief executive officer of the U.S. Travel Association, a nonprofit lobbying group,

Lawyers “are trying to makes sense of what happened,” said Christine Alden, an immigration attorney in Miami. “It’s all really far-reaching. It’s going to affect businesses, families and students going back to school,” she said.

The U.S. has treaties with some of the targeted counties that allow investors to visit the U.S. under the E-2 visa program, she said. Those people won’t be allowed to come run their businesses. Oil companies, tech companies and others that depend on foreign workers may see them stranded overseas.

–With assistance from Justin Bachman, Frederic Tomesco, Stephen West, Mary Schlangenstein and Alan Levin

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

This article was written by Christopher Palmeri and Michael Sasso from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Photo Credit: Protesters assemble at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 after two Iraqi refugees were detained while trying to enter the country. Craig Ruttle / Associated Press