May 10, 2021

The only constant is change when it comes to travel in the post-Covid era

Fast-pass pilot program in Seattle

When and if you decide to fly soon, a grab bag of changes awaits at airports, on airline booking sites, at rental car agencies and at international borders.

Here's a few to note, with more to come in the next few months.

Vaccine verification

No U.S. airline is requiring that passengers provide proof of vaccination, but some foreign airlines are, and many countries are or are expected to allow vaccinated visitors to enter without showing a negative Covid-19 test or requiring a quarantine (Iceland and Greece are two so far).

The U.S. has not come up with a digital system for entering and verifying Americans' vaccination records, leaving travelers to figure out how to safely carry and preserve their paper cards, or come up with a digital solution on their own

For residents of Washington State, and many others, one way is to electronically access your records on file with the Washington State Department of Health. Doctors and clinics are required to provide immunizations to the state, mainly so parents can prove to schools that their children have the necessary shots.

I registered on the state's mobile site, MyIrMobile, and requested that my Covid immunizations be added. Once registered, you can access your information anytime from your device.

The other way is by electronically accessing records on file with your health care provider, in my case, Kaiser Permanente. My information was easily verifiable by opening Kaiser's app, signing in, and clicking on "immunizations." 

PreCheck for those who don't have PreCheck

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (now called SEA Airport) is one of the first in the U.S. to investigate a virtual queuing system as a solution for crowded general screening lines. 

SEA Spot Saver is a free, reservation-based system for those who are not signed up for TSA's PreCheck expedited screening program, and instead must use the slower general screening security checkpoints. The pilot program will test if SEA Spot Saver reduces wait times and crowding.

The pilot will run through August at Checkpoints 2 and 5 from 4 a.m. to noon to reduce congestion during the peak morning travel period. To use the system, passengers on either Alaska Airlines or Delta sign-up up a day in advance of travel for expedited screening without an extra cost, membership, or account. 

Changing/cancelling reservations

Some airlines have begun to pull back on their Covid policies of allowing changes or cancellations without a fee (Customers receive an e-credit for cancellations and pay whatever the fare difference is for the changes).

Delta so far still allows free changes and cancellations, and surprise, if the fare drops between the time you booked and make a change, it gives you a credit for the difference.

This happened to me when I thought to recheck the price on a flight I purchased for travel in November. The fare had dropped $75. I was about to cancel and rebook at the new, lower fare, when I saw a more convenient return flight. The fare difference for the better flight was $22 in my favor which Delta credited to my account.

Delta also added an accelerator to the way it calculates mileage and spending requirements to maintain elite status. This makes it easer for those of us who will fly this year, just not as much as usual, to retain elite status.

When it comes to accommodations and tours, if your provider does not have a generous cancellation policy, look elsewhere. Travel is still too uncertain to lock in non-refundable or even partially-refundable reservations.

In researching a possible trip to Iceland in August, I've found that nearly every tour company offers total refunds for trips cancelled 24 hours in advance. The Airbnb I booked in Reykjavik is cancellable with a full refund, including the Airbnb fee, up to a week in advance. This has been the case with most Airbnbs I've booked recently in the U.S as well, with many offering full refunds for cancellations within a day or two of arrival.


Testing requirements

Expect these to change as more countries sort out their policies for vaccinated visitors. Iceland, for instance, still requires a rapid test on arrival, but will revaluate that rule June 1. 


Be aware of Hawaii's changing Covid rules

The island of Maui in Hawaii waives a test on arrival for vaccinated tourists, but like all the islands, requires proof of a negative test taken 72 hours before departure from the mainland, even for vaccinated travelers. 

As of this week, vaccinated inter-island travelers can upload an image of their vaccination card to Hawaii's Safe Travels portal and avoid additional testing. The state and the individual islands change their requirements frequently, so double-check on current rules close to the time you leave. 

Keep in mind, the U.S has not yet changed its requirement that anyone, including American citizens, entering the country, present proof of a negative Covid test taken no more than three days before departure. Recently approved were self-administered tests performed through an approved telehealth company. 

Rental cars

Cars are in short supply for various reasons, and rates for summer travel are outrageous. There are ways to whittle down the price below what you'll get by plugging in dates for airport pick-up and drop-off. Consider renting off-airport even if you have to take a taxi or Uber to reach the site. 

Costco and Expedia are two places to comparison shop. If you are willing to drive a pick-up truck (I'm not), you'll likely find a better deal than you will on in-demand economy cars. And don't forget the Airbnb-style sites where individuals rent their personal cars. Try Turo and Get Around, with descriptions of the cars, and reviews by past users. I didn't see any bargains when I checked, but if you've dreamed of getting behind the wheel of a Mercedes or a Tesla, this might be your chance.  


1 comment:

  1. Great review of a crazy time in travel. I keep telling friends that the devil is in the details and to check carefully when flying internationally these days. As I reported on our blog, while the PCR test requirement is three days prior to departure to enter the US, it is, f. . .the first thing she caught was the difference in thor example, 72 hours prior to entry into Greece and that is a whale of a difference. We also needed a paper copy of test results, with passport number on it, something that simply isn't done by the labs serving SeaTac (at least back in March). We got the paper copy but sweat out the passport number. . .luckily they accepted it. We have had our CDC vaccination card reviewed by our Greek doctor who has certified (in Greek) that we have had our jabs. The first thing she caught was the difference in the way we write dates: US 1/3/21 which she read as Jan. 3rd because here it is 3/1/21 - and here they are considering the vaccinations effective dates six months - so that little quirk could cause problems. Nothing is simple these days, is it?

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