In January when I saw $220 airfares from Las Vegas to Maui, I jumped on it. With two college students in southern Utah, it’s not too inconvenient to drive down from Salt Lake City, pick them up and fly out of the McCarran airport. But with the threat of COVID-19 still in the air, I would need to check protocols for travel to the Hawaiian islands.
I never hesitate to book when I see cheap airfares because federal regulations require all airlines to give potential passengers 24 hours to cancel penalty-free as long as the flight is at least seven days away. I bought the tickets for spring break and then found lodging and a rental car. Everything I booked allowed me to use them again within a year or so if someone in my party tested positive for COVID-19 and we were unable to travel.
If you’re planning to go while Hawaii still has COVID-19 restrictions in place, it’s imperative you pass certain State of Hawaii requirements before ever leaving the mainland.
All travelers ages 5 and over must have proof of a negative COVID-19 test. But it can’t be any old COVID-19 test. Hawaii will only accept an FDA-approved Nucleic Acid Amplification Test processed by a certified clinical laboratory improvement amendment lab with test results from trusted testing and travel partners. Visitors must take the test within 72 hours of boarding for the last leg of their flight before leaving the mainland. Depending on your state, you’ll have different options for testing. Where I live in Utah, my only options were either Walgreens or online testing.
When booking flights
- Unless you have a physical trusted testing site near you, you’ll need to use an online testing company.
- Test packets are sent through UPS and with that Sunday closure, the testing companies can’t guarantee you’ll get results back for a Tuesday or Wednesday flight.”
After booking flights and accommodations
- Each person ages 18 and over must register with the Safe Travels Hawaii program and fill out the mandatory State of Hawaii travel and health form. You’ll enter travel information and will also eventually enter proof of your negative COVID-19 test.
Three weeks before departure
- Order online testing kits from either Costco or Vault Health for around $120 each. These PCR saliva test kits cannot be returned and each tester will need their own account with Vault Health or with Costco’s testing partner, Azova (even young kids).
72 hours before departure
Take an in-person COVID-19 test if possible or take an online test. We were not able to take a rapid test at Walgreens because my college-age children did not live anywhere near a testing site.
A rapid test would be preferable simply to eliminate the wait of up to 72 hours that comes with an online test. I heard several horror stories of people not receiving results until they were at the airport. Too close for comfort for me. We opted to use Vault Health and logged into a Zoom call on a Monday at noon so someone could observe us spitting into our test tubes.
Both Vault and Costco allow an entire family to take the test on the same Zoom call. You seal it up, use a prepaid envelope and drop it to a UPS store. One advantage for the Costco option is that you’re able to schedule your test time. With Vault, you simply log on when you are ready to test. I was afraid we might get stuck in a virtual waiting room forever, but the process was quick. I was nervous about receiving our results in time, so I booked backup rapid tests at a Walgreens near the Las Vegas airport just in case. But we did not need them because we got results from Vault on Tuesday evening, just 30 hours after taking the test. (Our flight was for Thursday.)
When you receive COVID-19 results
Upload the results to the Safe Travels platform (or print them out and have them in hand) prior to your departure from the mainland. Once you upload the test results for each leg of your trip, you will receive a QR code to present in Hawaii. If you do not upload the results and answer corresponding questions before getting on that flight, you will be quarantined for 10 days once you land. That means you stay in a hotel room with food delivered to your door all at your expense.
At the departure airport
Some airlines allow travelers a pre-screening before they leave the mainland to avoid the cattle call that is screening for entry once they reach Hawaii. The airline did not tell me about this option, and I only discovered it by accident. They checked our QR codes in Las Vegas, took our temperatures and gave us wristbands to show we had been pre-screened. When we arrived in Honolulu, the line for screening went as far as the eye could see since passengers from all airlines were in one line. Our wristbands acted as fast passes and we walked straight to the front of the line and were on our way.
Yes, there are a lot of hoops to jump through to get to paradise. But the gorgeous beaches, fresh coconut and flower leis (not to mention the smaller crowds and lack of tour buses) once you arrive make it all worth it.