With expanded pre-clearance COVID testing options, Hawaii is making it easier to visit

Mar 26, 2021

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Hawaii is planning a major expansion of its successful COVID-19 pre-clearance testing program for visitors to the state.

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The program allows travelers to comply with the state’s Safe Travels guidelines prior to departure, and then skip mandatory airport screenings and quarantines on arrival.

Essentially, you get a special bracelet that shows you’ve followed the directions for entry to Hawaii.

You get a COVID-19 test from an approved company, upload the results into the state of Hawaii’s portal, answer a series of questions and once you’ve followed all those steps you get a QR code. When you check in for your flight to Hawaii, the airline checks you’ve done everything right and if you have, you get a bracelet showing you’re cleared for takeoff. It’s sort of like getting into a special VIP room.

I was one of many travelers that participated in this program during spring break season when I got “pre-cleared” in Seattle for my flight on Alaska Airlines to Kona International Airport (KOA). Kona is still offering testing on arrival for many passengers (including me) for free, as a courtesy. But you’ll still need to have a negative test taken within three days of departure to enter the state.

Alaska Airlines Hawaii Pre-Clear signage at Seattle Airport March 2021. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

Related: Fair warning: Hawaii is crowded again

Hawaii Gov. David Y. Ige told TPG:

“We’ve had terrific cooperation from our partners, and we’re grateful to them for helping to keep everyone in Hawaiʻi safe and healthy. The pre-clearance program is particularly helpful in getting arriving passengers through the airport with no delays.”

The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau has issued an expanded list of domestic and international carriers who are now participating:

  • Alaska Airlines: The pre-clearance process is offered from all U.S. mainland hubs with non-stop flights to Hawaii.
  • All Nippon Airways: This airline is currently testing the process and will soon offer pre-clearance for its flights from Japan.
  • Hawaiian Airlines: More than 15 cities throughout the world, including departure cities in Japan and Korea, offer pre-clearance. Austin and other locations are coming soon.
  • Japan Airlines: Pre-clearance is currently offered for all guests out of Tokyo Haneda Airport (HND) following a successful trial run with its elite members.
  • Southwest Airlines: Southwest is offering pre-clearance service from five gateway airports in California.
  • United Airlines: Pre-clearance is offered from all U.S. mainland hubs with flights to Hawaii.
Alaska Airlines Pre-Clear bracelets (Photo courtesy Alaska Airlines)

The state’s COVID-19 screening and quarantine rules have been evolving in the past few months, but the state has settled on a program that allows visitors to get a PCR test from an approved provider within three days of arrival and then skip quarantine — for most of the islands. Kauai was an exception and had a different set of rules, but it has now joined the Safe Travels program which is likely to happen soon.

Here’s TPG’s complete guide to the rules to visit Hawaii. I spent three days in January on Kauai and wrote about my experiences there.

Related: Kauai expanding resort bubbles

When I went back to Oahu and Hawaii Island in March, it was a whole different experience, but generally, the pre-clearance program seems to be working well. I think people have gotten comfortable with the system and have it pretty well down. The expansion of pre-clearance programs should make it even smoother as travel picks up this summer.

Alaska Airlines Pre-Clear. (Photo courtesy Alaska Airlines)

Featured image by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy. 

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