Planning and Preparation for Travel to Hawaii during COVID Pandemic
Ahh Hawaii! The trip that was supposed to occur in:
- April 2020 – for a destination wedding, COVID was in it’s peak awfulness, but made a rough draft itinerary in hopes of using it later in the year
- October 2020 – we were ready to travel but Hawaii still closed for out of state travel, we went to San Diego instead
- January 2021 – one of our favorite times to travel since it is post holiday crazy (normally) but my work exploded with administering COVID vaccine clinics
Fourth time is a charm. After getting the vaccine clinic in a good spot, I was able to wiggle out a much needed mental and physical break – an entire week off after almost 70 days straight. I knew exactly the rough draft itinerary to resurrect and escape the rough winter. Hawaii here we come!
Hawaii is a great covid safe destination:
- Strict travel policies
- Strong mask policies
- Everything can be done outdoors
- Low COVID case count
- The ability to do things on our own without a tour or group
Hawaii is known for having the strictest travel policy and this is what scares people from booking because it is pretty intense. Even traveling between islands requires homework. Like all travel in this pandemic era, it is critical that you check the travel requirements multiple times during the planning process as it may change, and change multiple times depending on how far out you are planning your trip.
With work the way it was going, I was only able to confirm this trip was on two weeks prior to our departure. Flight prices were still really low booking this close to travel so I was very pleased with that. We booked with United which at first I was not pleased about – while other airlines limited capacity and blocked middle seats, United did not – however I have to say the flight crew was incredible. We also booked flights with Hawaiian Airlines to transfer between islands which I was not as impressed with but it was ok.
Now that we had the flights, I filled in the blanks with accommodations, car rentals, and activities. At this point in the pandemic, all the things we were looking to do were open but some had limited capacity or require reservations. I noted those areas in the individual posts.
Unless you are staying for a long time, be prepared to have things change or weather impact plans – as it is mostly an outdoor trip. For our trip in March, it is the rainy season and rained it did. Honestly, it could have rained every day and I would have been just fine with it I was just grateful to be there but if you want a more perfect time, pick low rain season or have the ability to be flexible with your itinerary if you prefer to see the sunrise at Haleakala or surf in the sunshine.
Once we were locked in, it was time to follow Hawaii’s travel requirements. Our journey included a layover in San Francisco and then to Maui. Half way through the trip, we switched islands from Oahu to Maui. Then on the return, we flew from Oahu to Maui, then had the layover at San Francisco. I highlight this because it is important in understanding exactly what was required.
The most up-to-date information can be found on Hawaii’s COVID website under travel. As of this post, each island has their own travel requirements – it is not the same on each island. For example, Maui required an extra tracing app to be downloaded and Kauai is not taking any travelers who do not quarantine. Testing is pretty universal – which is not a surprise – but they only accept certain tests. Currently there is no ability to use vaccination documentation as means to get out of testing.
This is a great flow sheet on the website – this is still the most recently updated as of 2.3.21. If you have question about your specific itinerary, you can call the 1-800-GOHAWAII number – I did and someone will pick up the phone!
Testing to Bypass Quarantine
- This is essential no matter which island is your final destination. The catch is you have to test with a Trusted Travel Partner within 72 hours of the FINAL LEG of your journey.
- So for us, the final leg of our journey there was San Francisco to Maui – this flight left on a Friday at 2:15PM EST which meant our test had to be done after 2:15PM on Tuesday. Not that if your flight is delayed or canceled, if your test does not fall within that 72 hours mark, it will not be accepted. Likewise, if you do not have a result by the time you land in Hawaii, it will not be accepted.
- Finding a Trusted Travel Partner can be tough depending on where in the country you are from – some places have ample options while others do not. Some airlines offer this service as well though it comes with a pretty price tag. Thankfully, we are nearby several Walgreens, which is a Trust Travel Partner and if you are able to use them, you will have no trouble at all.
- Walgreens Info
- Two of the three types of tests offered are acceptable as a Tusted Travel Partner:
- Diagnostic Lab Test (PCR): The RT-PCR Diagnostic Panel Test – NAAT is used to detect genetic material (mRNA) of the coronavirus and will be sent to a laboratory to determine results in a variable amount of time.
- Rapid Diagnostic Test (ID NOW): The Rapid Point-of-Care (POC) – NAAT (ID NOW) test also detects genetic material of the virus. The test is performed on site with results available within 24 hours.
- If you are able, do the Rapid Diagnostic Test (ID NOW) – red dot on the Walgreens map – you will have results within hours
- I took my test at 10:30AM on Wednesday before our Friday flight and had results by 1PM the same day. Kevin took his test at 11:30AM on Wednesday before our Friday flight and had results by 3PM the same day. Do not waste your time with the Diagnostic Lab Test (PCR) – purle dot on the Walgreen maps – if you can avoid it.
- Two of the three types of tests offered are acceptable as a Tusted Travel Partner:
(UPDATE: an additional COVID test is going to be required upon arrival at the airport to Maui from the mainland – information is constantly changing so it is imperative to be vigilant!)
Safe Travel Website
In order to travel to Hawaii, you are going to have to get used to this website:
Once you make an account, you will have some homework to do.
- Trips: This is where you register your trip and it will ask for information such as your flight and accommodations
- Some of the fields will have a drop down to select from for flight and accommodations but you are free text as well so do not panic if you do not see your flight listed – mine was not
- This is also where you will find your QR code once you upload your test results and complete the Health Questionnaire
- Health Questionnaire: To be completed within 24 hours of your flight (final leg) to Hawaii
- Daily Check-ins: This is for if you are quarantining, will be n/a if you are testing
- Documents: Where you upload your negative test results
When you upload your test results and complete the Health Questionnaire, you will get a QR code that becomes your pass into Hawaii and is asked for at multiple checkpoints in the airport and outside the airport (car rental, accommodations Aulani checks it, etc). Make sure you have this QR code readily accessible. I recommend adding this website as an icon on your phone’s home screen so you can grab it quickly. When you first get it – will emailed and available on the SafeTravels website under “Trips” – the check marks will be red. These will turn green once you are screened in Hawaii.
Some airlines will pre-clear passengers prior to their arrival in Hawaii. At SFO, United has a pre-check program with Hawaii so we were able to go to an area of the airport were United representatives inspected our travel documentation, health questionnaire, and covid test results. Successfully producing the requirements gave you a pre-cleared wrist band so that on arrival in Hawaii, you can skip the long lines. This ended up being a great service! I know several other airlines are participating in a similar program for travelers. I would lean towards booking with an airline that participates. The lines were really long for those that were not pre-cleared so this is definitely a big benefit to getting to your vacation faster.
Ok, so what if you want to travel between islands? We certainly did – we would go to Maui and Oahu (to visit Aulani!). Originally, I had planned on doing Oahu first then Maui second but after reviewing the travel flow sheet, I reversed that decision. Here is why:
- Oahu to Maui –> COVID test 72 hours prior to departure or ten day quarantine
- Maui to Oahu –> No test and no quarantine
So it was an obvious decision to do Maui first then do Oahu which is how our itinerary was created.
I will not that on the way back – when we traveled from Oahu to Maui for the only purpose of getting on another plan to San Francisco and not leaving the airport – you need to create another trip indicating the travel from Oahu to Maui indicating that the purpose is for a “connection”. Then complete another Health Questionnaire to produce a QR code that will be screened at the airport to allow your transit to through the rest of the airport. I was not notified of this and luckily, neither was the rest of our plan that was going to a connecting flight. The staff there were able to help but after all the research and phone calls I made, this situation was not identified so keep that in mind. Not a big deal but now that you know, you can plan for it.
Extra special for Maui
- When traveling to Maui, you have to download the AlohaSafe Alert App which is a tracing app and exposure notification so if you are going to Maui, download this ahead of your trip – you have to have it downloaded before arrival
And do not forget to check with the state you are traveling from – what are the actions you have to take be allowed to enter the state and safely return home.
Other preparations included packing new COVID fighting items in our carry on such as masks, cleaning supplies, and hand sanitizer. Make sure to check out the Planning and Preparation for Travel during COVID Pandemic post with more information on traveling during the COVID pandemic even if it is a road trip or somewhere nearby.
One thing we have learned so far is if you are traveling in this pandemic era, you have to be flexible and ready to change plans. State COVID websites are constantly being updated with changes and it is important to stay on top of them to ensure some sort of smooth travel. Check ahead of time for anything you may want to do as many companies have chosen to close until things are better. If you are going somewhere that you may leave disappointed because things got canceled or are unavailable, you may want to wait. But if you are willing to be flexible and take advantage of the things you can, then it can be a great, memorable trip.