We’re coming up on Thanksgiving, which usually is the year’s busiest travel weekend.
This year is different. With the COVID-19 pandemic raging out of control, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging people not to travel. “Thanksgiving gatherings with family and friends are meaningful and fun but can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19. The safest way to celebrate is to celebrate with people in your household,” according to CDC guidance on its website.
Many states are clamping down on travelers, urging them to quarantine. The governors of Washington, Oregon and California issued a joint travel advisory recommending a 14-day quarantine for returning residents or visitors.
“COVID-19 does not stop at state lines. As hospitals across the West are stretched to capacity, we must take steps to ensure travelers are not bringing this disease home with them,” said Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. “If you do not need to travel, you shouldn’t. This will be hard, especially with Thanksgiving around the corner. But the best way to keep your family safe is to stay close to home.”
California went a step further, instituting a partial lockdown (10 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew) in the hardest-hit counties, including Los Angeles County.
Even here in Alaska, many remote communities, from Dutch Harbor to Utqiagvik, require incoming travelers to quarantine for 14 days.
Updated rules for returning Alaska residents and out-of-state visitors for testing and quarantine are available at a special state website: www.alaskasafetravels.com.
Can you blame travelers for wanting to go to Hawaii? Alaska Air’s nonstops resume next week to Kona and Maui. Nonstop flights to Honolulu resume in December.
In fact, last week I was all set to go to Hawaii — just for a few days. So I went to Walgreens for a test. Hawaii will not accept just any test. Only tests from “trusted partners” are accepted. In Alaska, there are just four Walgreens locations in Anchorage that qualify.
After getting tested within 72 hours of my Hawaii-bound flight, I waited. And I waited. Unfortunately, the test results did not arrive in time for me to catch my flight and I had to cancel my trip.
In the meantime, Capstone Clinic just received its “trusted partner” designation from Hawaii. Capstone has three COVID testing locations for Hawaii travelers: one each in Anchorage, Wasilla and Kenai.
Micky Boyer, Capstone’s Chief Operating Officer, said Hawaii’s health department had reached out to his staff during the summer about how to set up a testing protocol. “We thought they would include us when they re-opened in October,” he said. “But when we found they had a list with just a few locations, we did what it took to be added.”
Travelers now can go to Capstone within 72 hours of their Hawaii flight. “The average wait is about 35 hours,” said Boyer. “But many will receive their results within 24 hours.”
Two friends who are headed to Hawaii this weekend drove up to Capstone’s Anchorage location. They took their test at 11:10 a.m. on Wednesday and received the results at 4:05 p.m. on Thursday, a total of 29 hours.
Instead of sending test specimens to outside labs like Walgreens, Capstone works with a local lab, Beechtree Diagnostics.
“This Alaska-based lab has the rapid throughput capability for the COVID tests,” said Boyer.
Capstone will bill your insurance company for the test. If you don’t have insurance, Capstone will be reimbursed using CARES money. Travelers who come for a COVID test won’t have any out-of-pocket expenses.
If you’re concerned with airline cabins filling up (in spite of rising COVID-19 numbers), Delta announced it is keeping middle seats open on its flights through Mar. 30, 2021. That includes the carrier’s 737s between Anchorage and Seattle, as well as 757s on the Anchorage-Salt Lake flights and Anchorage-Minneapolis nonstops.
After 20 months, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says the 737MAX is ready to fly. Following two tragic accidents, the planes were grounded worldwide while Boeing worked on fixes.
Alaska Airlines has ordered a bunch of the 737 MAX 9 model. Although the aircraft isn’t slated for service to Alaska right away, you’re likely to end up on one of the 737 MAX 9 modes if you’re a frequent flyer.
Before the 737 MAX begins flying paying customers, pilots have to be trained on the plane. Then proving runs are necessary to many airports to confirm navigation requirements. The 737 MAX 9 is scheduled to fly starting in March, 2021. According to Alaska Air’s website, the airline’s team plans to fly the plane more than 50 hours — and over 19,000 miles, as part of the pre-launch regimen.
“As a safety professional with decades of experience, including many years with the FAA, I’ve had the opportunity to stay very close to the FAA and Boeing through the grounding and recertification of the 737 MAX. I’m very confident with all the steps the FAA and Boeing have taken and the steps we’re taking at Alaska to prepare us to safely bring this aircraft into our fleet,” writes Max Tidwell, Alaska Air’s Vice President of Safety and Security.
Between the raging pandemic, the grounded airplanes and testing requirements, travelers have to jump through quite a few hoops before taking flight.
These crazy events might be a sign to just unpack your suitcase for awhile and enjoy a moment of thanks with your “bubble.” Save the big family gatherings for another time.