I believe that one of the only ways the travel industry will get back (or at least close) to pre-pandemic levels is if everyone wears a mask and if widespread, rapid, accurate COVID-19 testing is available. Not many people, including me, trust that the person sitting near to them on a plane, train, bus or boat will be COVID-free. However, if everyone was tested prior to boarding every time they got on one of those modes of transportation, or even before they entered a restaurant, people would come back and in droves.
Obviously, that’s a huge challenge but airlines, airports and destinations realize that this is their golden ticket, while awaiting a reliable and effective vaccine. That’s why they’re all scrambling to partner with different health companies to offer testing. Especially when it comes to flights to Hawaii. That’s because many destinations like Hawaii require proof of a negative reading within 72 hours prior to the final leg of departure.
United Airlines was the first to announce testing on flights out of San Francisco International (SFO). The following day, other airlines started offering testing around the country. Here’s a list:
Alaska is partnering with Carbon Health to offer rapid COVID-19 testing in pop-up clinics — starting in Seattle on October 12, 2020, and expanding in the coming weeks as they resume nonstop service to Hawaii from other cities on the West Coast. Alaska guests must show their travel confirmation code and will pay a discounted cost of $135.
American Airlines is offering three ways to get tested:
–At-home test from LetsGetChecked for $129 (with a 48-hour turnaround time on average)
-In-person testing at select CareNow urgent care locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas (DFW) area. Rapid COVID-19 tests in clinic are $150 and $249 at the airport. Full payment is due at the time of testing.
-To save time, American recommends at-home testing if you have a connecting flight and adding one hour to your normal check-in time for rapid testing. A negative test result is required to board for some international flights, and they’ll assist you in rescheduling your flight and issue a trip credit if needed.
Drive-through testing, exclusively for Hawaiian Airlines guests in partnership with Worksite Labs. $90 per person for results within 36 hours. Dedicated facilities, conveniently located near the airport. Drive-through, supervised self-administered shallow-nasal swab. Premium day-of-travel express service available for $150 per person. SFO and LAX opening October 2020; other airports coming soon. NOTE: Labs are not currently open, but will be announced soon.
At-home testing for all ages in partnership with Vault Health. $150 per person. Shipping available for U.S. addresses only. Safe for all ages. Medically verified, at-home saliva sample collection test. Sample collection is conducted via online video connection with a test supervisor. Results within 24 hours after arrival at lab.
According to JetBlue’s website, “the at-home saliva test is administered via online video connection through Vault Health, with a test supervisor who ensures the customer is providing their sample properly. The sample is then overnighted to a laboratory which processes and analyzes the specimen, and results are provided in 72 hours or less.” Cost: $150
United Airlines customers flying out of SFO can schedule their visits online in advance for the on-site testing facility, located at the international terminal and will receive their results in approximately 15 minutes. GoHealth Urgent Care’s dedicated COVID-19 testing area will be available from 9am to 6pm PT daily. The price for the rapid testing option provided by GoHealth is currently $250, but the price is expected to come down.
The second option is the mail-in test: “United will email customers traveling from San Francisco to Hawaii an invitation to purchase ($80 + shipping) their physician-ordered Color self-collection kit at least 10 days ahead of their departure, collect their own samples at home 72 hours prior to their departure and return their test via overnight mail or to a drop box at SFO.”
Before you travel, it’s very important that you find out exactly what type of test is required from your destination because many don’t accept rapid tests and I know you don’t want to travel all the way somewhere only to be turned around or forced into a quarantine that you have to pay for.
I’m skeptical that these 72 hours prior tests are going to work. Unfortunately, I do think Hawaii will end up closing back down within a few weeks of reopening after cases spike again, since a lot can happen after you take a test a couple days before your trip. Not only that but people can still be infected but it won’t show up if it’s the early stages.
Most of all, it really only takes one bad apple to be a super-spreader and ruin it for others. Look at the French couple who traveled to Iceland and went into an Irish pub instead of staying quarantined. Iceland’s weekly infection rate per 100,000 people went from 7.3 to 89.7 in the space of 10 days! Closer to home, just look at the outbreak at the Rose Garden event at the White House.
It’s a good start by the airlines but by giving people 72 hours, it’s just not enough. They need to be tested at the airport prior to boarding for it to be more effective.
Let’s just hope that everyone follows the CDC COVID-19 prevention methods by wearing a mask, washing hands regularly, keeping their distance, covering their mouths when they sneeze/cough and staying home when sick. We can and will get through this but it’s going to be a while. Many experts like Dr. Fauci think people will be wearing masks late into 2021.
Australia says their border will likely remain closed until late 2021. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said, “International travel, including by tourists and international students, is assumed to remain largely closed off until late next year and then gradually return over time, and a vaccine to be available around the end of 2021 is one of the assumptions in the budget.”
RELATED: Oakland International Airport offers free COVID-19 testing. Testing is done by appointment only. You need to schedule your appointment at least three days prior to your flight and testing will be open to the public daily from 9am to 5pm. The test site is located at 9070 Earhart Road, about two miles from OAK. Testing is 100% free for all and insurance is not required. The results come back in 15 minutes but officials recommend travelers get tested at least one day before their flight.