If you’ve been longing for Hawaii’s sun-kissed shores, friendly aloha spirit, and breezy evenings punctuated by ukulele music and luaus, the time has finally come. After nearly seven months of requiring visitors and returning residents to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, Governor David Ige has announced plans to loosen the state’s travel restrictions.
Beginning Oct. 15, the new Pre-Travel Testing Program lets travelers show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of flying to Hawaii (from departure of the last leg) to avoid the 14-day quarantine period. Only children under 5 years old can avoid quarantine without having to take a test. Travelers must provide their negative test results upon arrival in Hawaii or quarantine until they receive them.
During a press conference on Oct. 1, Hawaii’s Lieutenant Governor Josh Green stressed the importance of getting the right test: the FDA-authorized Nucleic Acid Amplification Test from a certified CLIA lab.
“No antibody or antigen tests will be accepted — that’s very important because I don’t want people to take the wrong test,” said Green.
Clinics that currently administer the NAAT test include CVS, Walgreens, and West Coast-based Kaiser Permanente (costs vary). Four airlines have also announced plans to offer rapid COVID-19 testing for travelers flying from major US cities, such as San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas, and Chicago. Those airlines include Hawaiian, Alaska, United, and American.
Starting Oct. 12, Alaska Airlines plans to open a pop-up clinic in downtown Seattle, offering the Abbott ID NOW rapid test for $135, with results available in two hours. It expects to add other COVID-testing clinics in cities from San Diego to Anchorage beginning next month.
As of Oct. 15, United Airlines also intends to offer rapid COVID-19 tests for United customers traveling to Hawaii from San Francisco Airport. Travelers can take the rapid Abbott ID NOW test at the airport — getting results within 15 minutes, according to United — or a self-administered home test that’s mailed to a lab before their trip (results typically come back within 48 hours).
Hawaiian Airlines will offer customers a mail-in saliva test that’s shipped overnight to a lab for processing, with results available within 24 hours of arriving at the lab, according to that airline’s website. Travelers get assistance on collecting their sample by video call.
These rapid airline tests aren’t cheap, especially for families: They range from about $80 to $250 per person. Still, the testing programs are expected to enable more people to travel to Hawaii — and boost the state’s tourist-driven economy — while hopefully preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
These programs could be the start of a new era of airline travel, and an antidote for the floundering aviation industry.
“We’ll look to quickly expand customer testing to other destinations and US airports later this year,” Toby Enqvist, Chief Customer Officer at United, said in a statement.
Check each airline’s website for updated details on testing clinics, and leave plenty of time for mail-in tests. United, for instance, recommends their customers purchase the Color self-collection kit at least 10 days prior to travel, collect their sample at home within 72 hours of departure to Hawaii, and then either overnight mail the sample or drop it off at the airport in San Francisco.
To save time before you arrive in Hawaii, create an account on the Safe Travels site — a must for all travelers to the Aloha State — and add in information on your upcoming trip to Hawaii (go to travel.hawaii.gov). Fill out the health questionnaire within 24 hours before flying and you’ll receive a QR code that will get scanned at the airport when you arrive. You can also upload negative test results to your account.
If you arrive in Hawaii and don’t have your test results back, you’ll have to quarantine until you receive them. If your results come back negative, you must report this to Hawaii’s Department of Health before being cleared to leave your hotel.
“If you test positive, we’re going to give you guidance on what you need to do,” said Green. “If you can’t afford it, we’ll work with you because we’re trying to be very compassionate to our travelers who are coming back to Hawaii. We have some hotel rooms.”
Also, if travelers arrive after the 72-hour testing window, “we will be accommodating if (air) delays are out of their control,” said Green.
News changes quickly, so check Hawaii’s official government website www.hawaiicovid19.com for updates and more travel information.
With tourist numbers down — hotel bookings are at 19 percent compared to last year’s numbers for October, according to Green — many hotels now offer packages with great deals for travelers. Make sure you ask questions about cancellation and change fees when booking your hotel or accommodations, and special offers. Maui’s Montage Kapalua Bay, for instance, offers a Spirit of Now package that provides guests with flexible booking (meaning no deposit due at the time of booking), waived cancellation fees (just in case your pre-flight COVID test doesn’t go as planned), complimentary room upgrade if available at check-in, and a resort credit of $100 to $300 per night (because these places are so happy to have you back).
Also ask about available services. Many hotels now offer rental equipment such as snorkel gear and kayaks, and open-air spa treatments, dining, and entertainment. Montage Kapalua Bay, for instance, has transformed its large luau celebrations into small-group events on private lanais so you can still enjoy those breezy evenings with the sounds of drummers and dancers, and Hawaii’s welcoming aloha spirit.
Kari Bodnarchuk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kari Bodnarchuk can be reached at email@example.com.