Have you been dreaming of a trip to Hawaii, or stressing about the required COVID-19 tests?
For many Alaskans, a visit to the Aloha State is at the top of their list. After the islands were shut down to tourists all summer until Oct. 15, there’s still lots of pent-up demand.
But if you want your share of sun, sand and surf, you’re going to have to work for it.
The first set of instructions for travelers included instructions to get a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of your flight departure time (for your trans-Pacific Hawaii flight).
Those requirements changed quickly after thousands of tourists started arriving every day. Now, only tests from Hawaii’s “trusted partners” are permitted. While there are many COVID-19 testing sites in Alaska, in Anchorage, only four Walgreens locations qualify as a “trusted testing and travel partner.”
The good news for travelers is that the tests are free. But you have to make an appointment to get tested within 72 hours of your arrival in Hawaii.
Greg Galik flew from Anchorage to Honolulu last week. “Walgreens did a terrific job,” he said. “I went in on Friday for a Sunday flight. On Sunday morning, I got the results.”
The Walgreens tests are self-administered under supervision. Then, samples then are picked up twice daily to be processed at a local lab.
There are a couple of other options for testing:
• Vault Health: This is an at-home test that you do while on a Zoom call with Vault technicians. Then, you have to drop off the completed saliva sample at a UPS store. After the sample is received, Vault will email your results. The cost is $150.
• Carbon Health: These rapid tests are available to Alaska Air travelers in Seattle and Portland. Test results are available within two hours, so it’s possible to get tested between flights. You must have an appointment.
In Seattle, you have to travel downtown to a Carbon Health facility near the Space Needle. The fastest option is to take Sound Transit’s light rail to the Westlake Center (near Nordstrom). From there, you can walk or take a cab to the clinic at 200 Sixth Ave. N.
In Portland, Carbon Health has a clinic right in the airport. It’s open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. This option is only available to Alaska Air travelers. The cost for Carbon Health’s test is $135.
Because there are limited testing options in Alaska, Alaska Airlines is offering a free stopover in either Anchorage or Seattle so travelers can get tested.
Currently, nonstop flights from Anchorage to Hawaii resume on Nov. 21 to Kona and Maui and Dec. 1 to Honolulu.
Your COVID-19 test is just part of the paperwork that’s necessary for a visit to Hawaii. All visitors must establish an online user account with Safe Travels Hawaii.
Twenty-four hours prior to departure, you’ll receive a mandatory state of Hawaii travel and health form. After completing the form, you’ll receive a special code via email, which you must present to airport personnel on arrival in Hawaii.
If you’re headed to Honolulu, like Galik, just one COVID-19 test is required. But if you’re headed to the Big Island, you’ll have to take another test on arrival.
Bob Kaufman called me from Kona this morning. “We sat in the world’s most stressful waiting room. After traveling 13 hours and smelling the balmy Hawaii air, you get called up to the partition, where the lady tells you whether you’re free to proceed — or if you just tested positive,” he said.
“The wait was only 15 minutes,” Kaufman said. “But if the test had gone in a different direction … oh, my.”
If travelers test positive with the quick test at the Kona airport, then they have to take a more accurate test — and they must quarantine until the results come back.
“Once you finally get past the airport and the tests, you absolutely own the island,” Kaufman said. “There’s nobody on the beach. It’s beautiful.”
The second test on arrival is not required in Maui or Kauai, but travelers are encouraged to get tested three days after arrival, at their own expense. In Kauai, where the second test costs $150, you can get a gift certificate for $150 to use at a variety of Kauai adventures, attractions and restaurants.
The island of Lanai is closed to visitors because of a sudden outbreak of COVID-19 cases. This episode is an example of how health regulations can change quickly, upsetting the best-laid plans.
If you want to buy a ticket on Alaska Airlines' nonstop flights, the best deal is on the Honolulu nonstops, starting Dec. 1. Midweek departures in early December start at $436 round-trip. To Maui or Kona, round-trip tickets start at $700. You’re better off to use miles. Right now, the cost to Maui, Kauai or the Big Island is 35,000 miles round-trip in early December. That’s a great deal.