Back in the Travel Saddle … The Trials and Tribulations of Flying to Hawaii in COVID’s Shadow

It has been a year since our last airplane flight. Back then, we seemed to stay one step ahead of COVID. We visited Australia and New Zealand as they suspended tourism from China and Southeast Asia. We flew home through Hawaii and noticed the scarcity of tourism in the islands. We then made it to Vail, Colorado … They closed down the mountains two days after we boarded a flight for our home state of Pennsylvania.

I took the photo below of a ski slope at Beaver Creek … Mid-Morning and I have the entire slope to myself. The mountains were closed, in part, because people stopped coming. But also, Vail attracted visitors from Europe and the Far East. The infection risks were too high.

Like all of you, we locked down at home as the dangers of COVID became clear. We learned to live with the new normal of home isolation, home cooking, wearing masks, and distrusting social interactions. Like most of you, we ventured out after restrictions were eased, but were careful to avoid stupid risks.

Over the winter, we hit the road for warmer environments. Our original plan included stays in the California and Arizona deserts, followed up by a few days in Vail. But the high levels of infections led to a canceling of these plans and a secondary plan to winter in Florida.

We drove from PA to Orlando … Nine Hundred Miles, without stopping for meals or overnight lodging. We stayed in villas, with our own kitchen and washer-dryer. We didn’t eat out, and restricted our social interactions to golf (me), lap swimming ( Mrs Bear), and biking (both). We did not go to the theme parks. All in all, our risks in Orlando were no greater than staying home in PA. AND, given our ages, we qualified as high risks and were able to book vaccination appointments. We had to drive to Tampa, but who cared. We got the shots and tested negative as we drove back home in late March.

Which finally brings me to reviewing the planning and precautions of our return to air travel.

While many states flaunted or ignored COVID risk factors, Hawaii was not one of them. They were one of the last states to begin reopening, and were very strict about long mandatory quarantines for the tourists that came. About one month before our flight, Hawaii partnered with some of the airlines to confirm negative test results as a way to over-ride the mandatory weeklong isolation. For a fee, passengers could arrange a zoom- observed COVID test, followed by a UPS overnight delivery to a lab for testing. If the results were negative within 48 hours of the flight, the testee could get on the plane and pass through the airport in Hawaii upon arrival. This testing result also excluded us from the otherwise necessary seven day quarantine. The testing cost about $125 per passenger, and all four of us were negative. At the airport gate, we showed our result scans to United and received an arm band to pass through inspections at OGG (Maui’s Airport).

As stated above, Hawaii’s website, travelhawaii.gov, was set up to allow passengers to avoid the quarantines after arriving. The test results had to be forwarded to an opened account on this website for each of our party. In addition, each had to complete a health checklist within 48 hours of boarding the plane. Then Hawaii’s website confirmed for Car Rental Agencies, Hotels, etc. that we had tested negative prior to arrival.

But here is a little glitch that would have been nice to know. I’m standing in line at the rental care agency, and one of their reps comes over to see my proof of negative testing. I have my QR Code from TravelHawaii ready to show them, but they wouldn’t accept it. It turns out that businesses don’t scan Instead, they wanted to see the original email sent by TravelHawaii.Gov, which stated in a paragraph that my test was negative. I had to search for it, but was able to pull it our of my Old Mail files. I would recommend that travelers print out this page for all members of their party to insure easy access. These pages allowed us to get our rental car and check into our lodging. No one has asked for any kind of verification since. And I don’t think we will be hassled by anyone on our return flight.

A few words about the timing of our arrival processes. In short, we did a lot of waiting … It started at our Chicago gate. While the plane was almost full, everyone boarded quickly and efficiently. The result was a ready plane about twenty minutes before our departure time … WAIT … Then, the flight route had significantly more tailwind than normal, and we arrived 30 minutes early. BUT, the departing planes were still at the gates, so we had to WAIT 35 minutes to pull up … I left my wife and daughter’s friend to handle the luggage while we went to get the car rental at OGG. We stood in line after being told that the agency needed more than our QR Codes, then headed down to the cars. There we had to WAIT 50 minutes to actually get our car. We drive around the island to check in, and WAIT almost an hour to have our bags delivered to the room. Finally, we get settled and begin our “island time,” on Maui. I asked a few people and they said that most of the delays were due to a sudden interaction of COVID restrictions and an increase in tourist numbers.

But, despite the hassles, both COVID and logistical, this is still Hawaii. We cancelled a trip here last year, and are glad that this is our chosen destination to settle back into our travel yearning. Aloha …

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