The CDC advises COVID-19 tests for holiday travel. 8 do’s and don’ts ahead of your trip

Maria DeMartini started trying to book COVID-19 test appointments five days before her flight to Hawaii in mid-November.

The Chicago nurse checked Walgreens. None available.

Then CVS. Everyone in her group of four had appointments two days later, the timing they needed to meet Hawaii’s entry requirements, but they all had to go to different stores.

And that was only the start of the problems. The morning of their tests, DeMartini and her boyfriend got alerts from CVS that their tests were canceled because the pharmacy’s systems were down.

They were able to get in later that day, but by the day of their travel, only DeMartini had proof of a negative test because she had done a rapid test at her hospital as a backup.  

A mechanical delay in Chicago saved her 50th birthday celebration in Kauai. The group missed their connecting flight to Hawaii and had to spend the night in San Francisco.

DeMartini’s daughter received her results late that night, leaving two others without results. United offers rapid testing to Hawaii-bound passengers at San Francisco International Airport so they headed there just before it opened and, despite a line of 10 people, were able to get tested and received negative results before their flight, albeit for $250 per person. No one had to quarantine in Hawaii. (At the time of their trip before Thanksgiving, the state allowed travelers departing without their results to quarantine just until the results arrived, a risk DeMartini was willing to accept. The rules have since changed, and travelers without results before their flight departs must quarantine for 14 days instead.)

“It was very stressful,” she said. “Going there (to Hawaii) was the reward.”

It doesn’t always work out.

Testing backlogs, traveler procrastination and general confusion or ignorance about testing requirements have delayed or ruined many a vacation for those traveling during the coronavirus pandemic and headed to destinations that require a negative COVID-19 test to visit or to bypass mandatory quarantines. DeMartini didn’t receive her CVS results for 16 days.

The woman who scanned my COVID-19 results and other health information at Honolulu International Airport in Hawaii in November said she’d just sent a passenger home who arrived without proof of a negative COVID-19 test and didn’t know about the quarantine rules. My Uber driver told a similar tale of delivering a crying passenger back to the airport a day after arriving because she couldn’t leave her hotel room during the quarantine.

Airline social media feeds are sprinkled with posts from travelers confused about the testing requirements or worried about not receiving results in time.

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