It truly is a strange time to be traveling to Hawaii during COVID right now. Almost exactly one year ago, a group of us were off to Oahu to celebrate my birthday for four days. It was the first big group trip I’ve done in a while and I was so excited. Deep down, I was also nervous because a new virus was coming out of China and making its way around the world. Hawaii had just gotten its first confirmed case of COVID, but there were still no restrictions in place. We went on vacationing like usual and didn’t even think about COVID once. We came back and three weeks later, the whole United States was shut down. That trip was the last vacation a lot of us took.
Fast-forward to a whole year later and we’re still in this pandemic. One good thing that came out of this was the ability to work from home. I always wondered if I would be able to do it and now I know I totally can! A few of us thought we should get away and “work-from-home” somewhere else so that’s when Oahu was suggested. Even though traveling to Hawaii during COVID isn’t the best idea, we mainly did it because our Southwest Companion Pass was going to expire at the end of February. We either had to use it or lose it. There were only four of us traveling to Oahu this time around. My boyfriend, two friends, and myself.
UPDATE (3/18/21): Please make sure you double-check with the ever-changing travel requirements for Hawaii during COVID. This trip was taken back in late February 2021 so I know some requirements have changed since then.
There is a lot of information out there in regards to traveling to Hawaii during COVID and what you need to do before your flight. It can be confusing with all the new regulations and policies changing continuously so I’ve documented our whole experience below so you can see what we did. Please keep in mind that you should always double-check what the current Hawaii regulations are. What we went through might not be current by the time you read this blog post. Also, the process we went through is only needed if you want to bypass the 10-day mandatory quarantine.
STEP 1 : SAFE TRAVELS ACCOUNT
The first thing you want to do if you’re traveling to Hawaii during COVID is to sign up for a Safe Travels Account. You want to do this at least a couple of days before your flight. This is where you will be uploading your negative COVID results and answering questions about yourself and your flight. I signed up for mine about a week before my flight and enabled text notifications.
STEP 2 : COVID TEST REQUIREMENT
You need to get a COVID test at an approved testing agency and be within 72 hours of your departure time of the last leg of your flight. This was probably the most confusing part for me. The information that’s out there is not very clear and things keep getting updated regularly. I was stressed because the timing is confusing and I didn’t want to accidentally delay my COVID results. Luckily, everything worked for my friend and i but, for my boyfriend and his friend, they came across some hiccups. Below are our two experiences: Kaiser Permanente (In Person) and Vault (Mail-in). Hopefully, this will give you a better idea of different testing agencies’ timelines.
KAISER PERMANENTE (IN PERSON)
- Prepare For Your Appointment: Since my health insurance is under Kaiser Permanente, I decided to go through them. The test is free for members and they are on the approved Hawaii list. You will need to request a COVID test from Kaiser through their website first. I went on the website about a week before our trip and requested my test. The request gets routed through to Kaiser’s system and acts as a doctor’s note. After that, you can just show up to one of their COVID testing locations at your convenience. They will already have all your information and files.
- Schedule Your Appointment: You need to take the test within 72 hours of your departure time of the last leg of your flight. Our flight was on a Friday and had two legs. LAX>OAK and OAK>HNL. Our LAX flight departure time was at 2:30 p.m. and our OAK flight was at 5:30 p.m. That meant that we could only take our test after 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday (72 hours before our last leg). Unfortunately, Kaiser’s testing is only from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. so I couldn’t take it on Tuesday. I had to wait until Wednesday morning to take it.
- Go To Your Appointment: We woke up early on Wednesday morning and we drove down to Kaiser’s drive-through testing site located on 1540 N. Kenmore Ave. in Hollywood. We got there exactly at 8:57 a.m. and there was no line. They swabbed my mouth and then they swabbed my nose, both nostrils. The nose part didn’t hurt like I’ve heard a lot of people say, but it definitely made my nose tickle for at least 10 minutes. I told the technician that I was taking this test for Hawaii and asked if I’ll get the results before Friday afternoon. He said that I should get it no later than Friday morning. That was a sigh of relief on my side. My other friend took his Kaiser test during lunch time that same Wednesday.
- Get Your Results: On Thursday morning, I get a text from my friend saying that he already got his results back from Kaiser. I immediately log into my Kaiser account and lo-and-behold, I got my results back too. On the website, it said my results were received at 3:22 a.m. that morning. That means that it took less than 24 hours to get my negative results. That was extremely fast!
VAULT TESTING (MAIL-IN)
- Prepare For Your Appointment: Vault is an at-home/mail-in testing kit procedure. My boyfriend and my other friend work at the same company. Their job offers these kits as part of their regular COVID testing practice so that’s what they ended up using. The test requires you to set up an online video call with a technician where they will watch you spit into a small tube. The tube has a barcode which they will make you verify the number. You will seal it and package it back up in front of the technician and then it’s your responsibility to drop it off to the UPS store. The package should arrive at the testing facility the following day and should take another day to test.
- Schedule Your Appointment: The testing hours are based on east coast time and unfortunately have recently reduced their hours. My boyfriend originally wanted to take the test on Tuesday night since they used to allow appointments until 10:00 p.m. EST (7:00 p.m. PST). Their closing hours are now 8:00 p.m. EST (5:00 p.m. PST) so my boyfriend had to wait until Wednesday morning as well.
- Go To Your Appointment: He scheduled a video appointment with the technician at 7:30 a.m. PST (10:30 a.m. EST) Wednesday morning. The technician watched him spit in a tube and then packaged everything. My boyfriend dropped off his testing kit at a UPS store around 8:45 a.m. on our way to my Kaiser drive-through appointment that same morning. Since he took his test Wednesday morning, this was really risky because it wouldn’t get to the lab until Thursday and they need another day to test, which would be Friday.
- Get Your Results: On Thursday, we don’t hear anything from the testing agency. On Friday, my boyfriend finally gets a text around noon saying that they have received his test. By the time we were at LAX for our 2:30 p.m. flight, my boyfriend and my other friend still had not received their negative COVID results. We arrived in Oakland at 4:00 p.m. and still nothing. Our next leg of the flight was at 5:30 p.m and by the time we left, still no COVID results. We landed in Oahu around 11:00 p.m. PST (9:00 p.m. Hawaii time) and STILL NO COVID RESULTS. We’re officially worried now since it looks like we might all need to quarantine. I go to the bathroom real quick and by the time I come back out again, my boyfriend looks at me and says, “I just got my negative results back!” I’m not even kidding ladies and gentlemen. Within 25 minutes AFTER landing, both my boyfriend and other friend got their test results in their emails. Talk about a close call!
P.S. If you’re wondering, Southwest does not check your Safe Travels account or if you have a negative COVID test. You board the plane as usual and everything is handled once you land.
STEP 3 : UPLOAD NEGATIVE COVID TEST DOCUMENT
After you’ve received your negative test results, you will have to upload it onto your Safe Travels account. It will have to be in PDF format. No screenshots. The form will ask you what agency you took the test at and what type of document it is. The Safe Travels website will automatically scan your document to see if you got a negative result back or not. My friend and I that went to Kaiser uploaded our document on Thursday. Since my boyfriend and other friend didn’t get their results until we landed at HNL, we had to sit in the airport for a bit for them to upload their documents to their Safe Travels accounts.
STEP 4 : 24-HOUR PREFLIGHT HEALTH QUESTIONNAIRE
About 30 hours before our flight, I got an email to answer a health questionnaire. It’s just four simple yes or no questions. This questionnaire is important because you will be issued a QR code that will eventually be scanned once you land. Everything went smoothly and I got my QR code through my email right away. Below are the questions they will ask.
- Do you feel ill now?
- Have you had a flu vaccine? (Still up for debate on this question. I thought it was referring to the COVID vaccine, but my boyfriend thought it was the flu shot. We both had our flu shots but didn’t receive the vaccine yet. In the end, we just put no.)
- Have you taken a medicine (e.g., Tylenol or Ibuprofen) in the last 24 hours to bring your fever down?
- Have you signed a 10-day quarantine order that is currently in effect? (This is referring to if you’ve already traveled and are currently in quarantine.)
PRE-SCREENING (CHECKPOINT #1)
This experience was based on us landing in what I believe to be the Southwest Terminal. Not sure if every terminal has this, but this is what we went through. Once you step off the plane, you will be funneled through the terminal until you reach the first checkpoint. This area is stanchioned off and they will ask to see that you have your QR code from your Safe Travels account. All they want is to see your QR code. They don’t scan or check anything at this point.
FULL SCREENING (CHECKPOINT #2)
After we presented our QR code to the security guard, we walked a little bit to stand in another line. This line was definitely longer and where they were doing the full COVID checks. Once we got in front of the line, we then enter a room of probably eight stations of staff members checking documents. They first ask for your name and for your QR code. They will look you up in their system to see if you’ve already uploaded your COVID results. If everything is good in their system, you don’t have to do anything further.
Since my boyfriend and my other friend just uploaded their results, we weren’t sure if they were automatically cleared in their system yet. We didn’t have a place to print the test results either so we were hoping that they would take whatever was on their phone. We were more concerned that the QR code had something to do with the COVID results also. Since they answered the questionnaire before they uploaded their COVID results, we all thought that they were going to get held up. Luckily, when the person checked their system, both my boyfriend and friend were cleared. It was probably 15 minutes from when they uploaded their negative COVID test to the time we got in front of the checker.
Once your checker has approved you, your “screened” and “exempt” status on the Safe Travels account turns from “red/no” to “green/yes.” This will become important later on so make sure your Safe Travels account reflects the new status.
HAWAII CAR RENTAL PROCEDURE DURING COVID
We rented our car from Avis since that’s what was bundled with our hotel package. When we checked in at the car counter, we were required to show our Safe Travels account. This is where your Safe Travels account status becomes important. They will not rent you the car if your “screened” and “exempt” have not been changed to green/yes. This is a good security check to make sure people that haven’t been approved can’t rent a car and are forced to go straight to their hotel or their residences to quarantine.
CHECKING-IN AT THE HOTEL
For our trip, we stayed at the Prince Waikiki. We usually stay closer to Waikiki Beach, but we thought we would give the Prince Waikiki a try. Also, we got a pretty good deal on it which I’ll save for another blog post. Overall, the check-in process was mostly the same as usual except that they do ask to see your Safe Travels account. This is the second time we were asked to show this. Also, it’s not just the person who the reservation is under, but everyone that’s staying in the room. So, if you put two people on your reservation, both will have to show their Safe Travel accounts. If there are four people, all four will have to show their accounts.
CONCLUSION ABOUT TRAVELING TO HAWAII DURING COVID
If you’re planning on traveling to Hawaii during COVID, my advice is to get an in-person covid test. Even though I understand the mail-in test is convenient for the test taker, it definitely wasn’t worth the stress. There are too many variables that can go wrong with a mail-in test. When my boyfriend and other friend took their test, the south and east coast were going through a major snowstorm. A lot of planes were being grounded and a lot of shipments were delayed. Hawaii was even allowing tests to be taken 96 hours in advance during this time, but we found out too late. I consider us very lucky because uploading your document too late will give you this error. There was obviously a grace period since two of us did upload it after arrival, but just long sure how long. I wouldn’t risk it.
Either way, if you’re traveling to Hawaii, I assume you’re going on vacation and wouldn’t want to start it off by stressing out about not getting your COVID results in time. Go to either your healthcare provider, CVS, or one of those rapid test centers at the airport and be done with it. If you have any questions at all, feel free to leave a comment below!