Traveling to Hawaii? Be Prepared to Pay

Otto I. Eovaldi

Vaccinated travelers may soon be able to travel to Hawaii without testing or quarantining, some eight months after the state instituted its stern Safe Travels program.

In recent days, David Ige, Hawaii’s governor, has issued a series of guidelines regarding travel and other aspects of further reopening the state, which has had the strictest entry rules of any U.S. state since the onset of the pandemic.

When Hawaii reaches a 60 percent vaccination rate, people who were vaccinated in the United States and are traveling domestically will be able to bypass testing and quarantine requirements with proof of vaccination. Starting Tuesday, quarantine and testing requirements for intercounty travel will end. And when the state reaches a 70 percent vaccination rate, all restrictions on travel will be lifted and the state’s Safe Travels program will end.

As of Wednesday, 53 percent of Hawaii residents were fully vaccinated and 60 percent had received their first shot.

“As Hawaii’s public health outcomes improve and our economic situation appears to be stabilizing, I am ending several of the emergency provisions that have been in place for over a year,” said Mr. Ige in a statement on Tuesday.

His words were welcomed by travelers who are eagerly planning trips to the islands at high rates (one travel adviser describes interest in visiting Hawaii as “off the charts” in recent weeks). But for the many who have recently been to the state — and locals who have traveled between the islands — the governor’s plans are coming a little too late, and after a great deal of confusion, frustration and what they say is wasted money.

Currently, to visit the islands or move between them, travelers, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated or not, have to show a negative Covid test result taken within 72 hours of traveling. These tests range in price, with some people paying $200 or $300.

Vaccinated travelers complain that the tests are expensive and unnecessary and that getting the correct information about what is required is too difficult.

“Today’s Hawaii travel is much tougher than you might think,” said Cheryl Temple, a former mayor of the town of Orting in Washington who is currently in Kauai. “Read every word when researching and click on every link. It’s all there, but I missed a small but significant piece.”

Ms. Temple’s son lives on the island of Kauai, but recently had surgery on Oahu. She flew there to meet him and then flew to Kauai with him, where she planned to spend time caring for him at his home. She is fully vaccinated and before traveling from the mainland to Oahu had gotten a negative Covid test. But when she landed in Kauai, she was told she either had to fly back to Oahu and get tested or immediately go into quarantine on Kauai for 10 days, in a hotel apart from her son. She flew back to Oahu, got tested for $150 and then flew back to Kauai.

Other travelers relate similarly frustrating experiences when traveling between islands. They said that the rules for testing to get to Hawaii from the mainland are clear and well-explained on the Safe Travel site, but rules about inter-island travel are vaguer and harder to understand.

Desiree Baker took to TikTok to share her frustrations this week after traveling from Boston to Hawaii. She first landed in Maui, then went to Oahu for a few days before returning to Maui. Ms. Baker and a friend didn’t get tested before leaving Oahu for Maui. When they landed, the National Guard officers at the Maui airport told them they would need to return to Oahu to get tested or immediately go into quarantine. She said she would quarantine in her Airbnb where she had left her belongings during the days she was in Oahu.

“They said it’s against the law to quarantine at an Airbnb,” she said. “We had to stay at one of their hotels that they partner with, which was $300 a night and we wouldn’t be able to get our stuff from our Airbnb.”

She opted, instead, to get a $155 roundtrip ticket to Oahu to get a $140 Covid test.

Janet Flagg, a travel adviser at Boost Journeys, a boutique agency that focuses on luxury trips, recently traveled from Boston to Hawaii, the Big Island. She, and others, said that airlines should do a better job of telling people what to expect when they land.

“It’s a 13-hour trip, so they have a captive audience for that long and still don’t prepare you for what you get when you land,” she said. “It was mayhem at the airport.”

She said people were separated into different lines: one for residents; another for visitors, which then split into separate lines for vaccinated travelers and unvaccinated travelers. She saw that many travelers had not completed parts of the onboarding process, which is supposed to be done before boarding the flight: answering a questionnaire about their health in the 24-hour period before flying or uploading their test results to the Safe Travel site. Stopping the line while they completed those steps led to delays for everyone, she said.

Those charged with checking traveler credentials seemed irritated with travelers and travelers seemed irritated with them, Ms. Flagg said.

For the people who do make it out of the airport, there is still a chance of having to quarantine.

Betsy Blair, a health psychologist who lives in Milwaukee, traveled to Hawaii with her wife this month. The couple prepared their documents, got a negative test from a state-approved test provider and headed to Hawaii. They flew into Kona on the Big Island without hassle, then to Maui for a few nights and then to Hilo, back on the Big Island. Ms. Blair said that she repeatedly asked people at her hotel in Maui if she and her wife would need a test to get back to the Big Island, but were told they would not.

“Between scouring the website and asking people we thought would know the rules, we went to Hilo” she said. They were promptly quarantined
, though they were allowed to sit things out at their Airbnb. Making matters worse, their car rental was immediately canceled because the quarantine and reservation information is connected in the state’s Safe Travels app.

The state’s Tourism Authority said that Hawaii’s rental car fleet decreased by more than 40 percent during the pandemic because many car companies sold off their cars. Janice Berman, who recently traveled to Maui, said she got quoted a price of $3,000 to rent a car for 12 days.

The cost of ride shares with services including Uber and Lyft is also extremely high. The Tourism Authority is urging travelers to use other modes of transportation to navigate the islands.

Ms. Blair said that she got lucky and found an Uber driver who was willing to drive her and her wife to get a Covid test and then to a grocery store before dropping them off at their place. They got their negative test results a day later but still didn’t have a car.

At every turn, travelers said that they were required to show the QR code they received when they uploaded their test results before getting on a flight — when renting a car, checking into a hotel, at some restaurants and when participating in various excursions. Some found the process tedious and unnecessarily strict. A simpler solution, many people said, would be to make it possible to show that you’ve been vaccinated once — upon arrival at the airport. And those traveling between islands said one test should suffice. The assumption should be that if you are in Hawaii, you have been through the rigorous screening process to get there. Authorities, however, said the state instituted the rigorous testing rules in an effort to protect locals.

But some travelers, like Ms. Blair, said that they understand the abundance of precautions that the state is taking. Others said that they specifically chose to go to Hawaii because they knew that coronavirus has been taken seriously there and they would be safe. Jumping through the hoops, they say, is a small price to pay for paradise.

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