Readers have more travel questions. Chris has answers.

Readers have more travel questions. Chris has answers.

Every month, my email box fills with several queries and comments about travel. And with the travel world changing faster than I’m able to chronicle these days, my mailbox is overflowing.

In this post, I’ll share those emails that might help out others with similar concerns or reactions. Take a read and let me know if you have a question of your own, or if you’d like to see this Q&A continue as a regular feature. Here’s a link to my email.

Timing is off for Hawaii Covid-19 test.

Chris: I have flown to Maui every September for the past 30 years, so I’ve been following Hawaii’s reluctant Gov. Ige. It would have been nice if he had worked out details with CVS before making the announcement about Covid-19 testing three days prior to travel. I called CVS today and was told that needing a test for travel was not one of their criteria for receiving a test. And test results are normally taking 2-4 days. I contacted Kaiser, my healthcare provider. Travel need is a criteria they would use to give me a test. But again, the turnaround is “normally 3-4 days.” If you can’t be assured of getting a test result back within three days of travel, who is going to commit time and money to a Hawaiian trip–no matter how low the airlines reduce the price? — John

Thanks for this, John! The Hawaii testing situation is still a little murky two weeks after the governor’s announcement that the quarantine will be lifted when testing is in place August 1. The state’s official web page on the topic says, “These plans are in development and the process and requirements are to be determined in the coming weeks.” We are monitoring the situation and will post more info on SFGATE as soon as we hear it. Best, Chris.

Best/worst airlines for mask enforcement? 

Hi Chris: Could you please cover which airlines have the best or worst record, or what’s been reported, for mask enforcement?  Could some be more loose than others when it comes to letting some go who say they have a ‘medical condition’?  Any chance a doctor’s note could be required?  I don’t want to sit next to someone without a mask.  Do any airlines move maskless people to another section, or accommodate those who (like me) would like to be moved?  This will affect my decision in choosing an airlines, more than a crowded airplane. Thank you! –Cindy

Thanks, Cindy: As the mask-wearing issue has heated up in recent weeks, airlines have become a lot more vocal about enforcement — and I don’t think that any of them are better about this than others. However, there are still no federal rules requiring the use of masks in flight, so a non-compliant traveler can’t be arrested for breaking any mask wearing laws. However, onboard planes, passengers are required by law to follow the orders of captains and crew members, and if they choose not to wear masks, they can be removed from the plane. But it really comes down to individual behavior, and there’s really not a way to ensure that the person next to you will remain masked for the entire flight.  –Chris

Europe in September? 

I have travel plans to fly to London during the first week in September. From there we will be traveling to Prague and many other countries for a three-week vacation. I know you don’t have a crystal ball but do you have a gut feeling that traveling in Europe will be be easier by then being that is still three months away? Any information will be helpful. Thank you! –Rudy 

Hey Rudy! Sorry for the late reply to your email. London sounds lovely right now. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I don’t think your trip is going to happen in September. As I wrote yesterday, Americans will have a tough time getting into Europe or just about anywhere until our Covid-19 infection and hospitalization rates go down. Some flights are available from the US to Europe now, but those are only for essential, repatriation or cargo travel. I’d put your trip off until next year if I were you. Let me know what you end up doing. –Chris

Covid-19 test complications for travel.

Good Afternoon: I was wondering if you could please tell me how long the mandatory Covid swab test will be in place? Also, what are other options for those people who are unable to have the test completed with a nasal swab due to past surgeries on the septum as well as issues or problems with the nasal passageway. –Brittanni

Hi Brittanni: You’ll have to consult with your doctor about your issue with swabs and nasal surgery. We are still awaiting more details from the state of Hawaii about how all this will work. We read this week about a new Covid test in the works that tests your breath- – like a breathalyzer. We’ll get a post up on SFGATE as soon as we hear more…Best, Chris

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Getting a passport.

Thank you, Chris! I really appreciate your updates. I sent my passport in for renewal mid April. I have a mentally ill brother overseas and worried that something may happen during the time it takes to renew. My other question on this is why did they cash everyone’s checks if there’s no one to work on the passports?? Anyway thank you again. –Paul

Hi Paul! Sorry for the late reply. I hope everything is going okay for you and for your brother. Sounds like passport processing is slowly starting to crank up again, but with a big backlog, it’s going to take a while. But since it sounds like you might have some essential travel in your future, you know you can still get passports expedited for essential travel, right?  Best, Chris.

American's won't be traveling to Australia any time soon as the country has closed its borders to most outsiders. Photo: Andrew Watson/Getty Images/AWL Images RM

Photo: Andrew Watson/Getty Images/AWL Images RM

American’s won’t be traveling to Australia any time soon as the country has closed its borders to most outsiders.

Beyond belief. 

Thanks for the article on the yellow flag system Alaska Air is using.  I haven’t flown since the pandemic began and shutter to think about the possibility of encountering someone refusing to wear their mask on a flight, especially if they are in proximity.  It’s amazing to me and extremely disconcerting that another individual might be so selfish and arrogant the would disobey flight rules to endanger the lives of others, including myself. That the federal government doesn’t step in with strong laws and enforcement procedures, by this point especially, is beyond belief. Cheers, Tim

Thanks for your note, Tim! I too find it mindboggling that the federal government won’t step in with requirements for all passengers to wear masks on planes, trains and ride-sharing automobiles. I think that if the requirement came from the federal government, and if it could be enforced, it would encourage more people to fly by providing a certain level of confidence that they are protected. Oh well… –Chris

When can we get out of here? 

Hi Chris, I watched your interview on ABC 7 News this morning. Thank you for lending your opinion and comments. Although I appreciated your comments, I am interested more in international travel. Any thoughts as to the time frame on when Europe and Australia will lift travel restrictions to US Citizens?  My family is there and I am feeling uneasy that I will not be able to travel to  see them this year. I have been staying in and working from home since March 15th.  I have done my part.  I must say I am very upset that  people have not taken this pandemic more seriously as we are surging throughout this entire country. Thank you Chris for  any information you have time to send me. Best, –Laurie 

Thanks for your note, Laurie! Glad you caught the ABC7 clip! Timetables for travel, quarantines and other information is changing from week to week. As you probably know, the EU has banned Americans from travel to Europe for the time being. Australia’s borders are closed indefinitely. I wish I could be more hopeful about you getting to see your family, but I just don’t think we’ll be able to fly to Europe or Australia this year. –Chris.

PreCheck, CLEAR and Alaska Lounge at SFO

Excellent article about your Alaska Air flight to Palm Springs.  I flew three round trips on Alaska in June.  At SFO’s Terminal 2, I was disappointed on my past two trips that there wasn’t a dedicated TSA Precheck line. I have both TSA Pre and CLEAR.  There was a fairly long line to get through security.   Also, some folks don’t understand the concept of social distancing.   And some of the other TSA Pre travelers tried to cut the line.   I’m flying again on Tuesday and I dread going through security in Terminal 2.  I was looking forward to the new Alaska Lounge at SFO.   I hope it opens by the end of the year?   Alaska extended Alaska Lounge membership six months.  However, given the fact the only Alaska Lounge that’s open is at SeaTac, I think a full year extension is more appropriate considering MVP was extended another year. Thank you. –Norm

Thanks for your take on the current situation, Norm! Thankfully for my one trip since the pandemic started, I was one of about five people in security, and one of two in the TSA PreCheck line which was open at midday when I was there. Based on the unpredictable lines as air travel creeps back, I bet there are times when TSA staff is overwhelmed not only with more travelers, but new processes which can slow things down. I too hope we’ll see the opening of the SFO Alaska Lounge, which pre-Covid was expected to debut in October, but I have a feeling we may not be seeing the inside of that lounge this year…or ever. Stay tuned… –Chris

Looking up from the SFO ramp, you can see the steel structure that will house the Alaska Airlines Lounge at SFO-- if it opens this year. Photo: Chris McGinnis

Looking up from the SFO ramp, you can see the steel structure that will house the Alaska Airlines Lounge at SFO– if it opens this year.

United refund mess. 

I had an unpleasant experience with United when I tried to get a refund instead of a credit voucher. My flight to Paris was canceled, but we were rebooked on another flight. The agents I spoke with said I couldn’t get a refund because the new booking got me to my destination within six hours of the original flight. It didn’t matter that my original reservation was for a shorter flight, and the new one had three stops. I tried quoting the FAA policies on canceled flights,  and even United’s own Q&A on what happens if you don’t want the rebooking, all to no avail. Now I am waiting (3 weeks) for the electronic voucher to appear. I would never fly United again, if I had the choice. –Susan

Hi Susan: Yuck! Sorry to hear about this Susan. Did you ever find a suitable resolution? United has loosened its rules several times over the course of the pandemic, so I am hoping that you got your voucher…or refund? Let me know. –Chris

Yes, I finally got a refund due to the retroactive change in re-booking parameters. Really grateful for the information you have been providing.
Regards, Susan.

Amtrak Air? 

Hi Chris?  Do you know if Amtrak trains run on recycled air only Or do they intake fresh air also? Thx. — Susan

Hey Susan: Short answer is I don’t know for sure. But I think it would depend on the train type. And all are likely a little of both fresh and recycled are based on what I have seen on my few rides.  Have you tried asking AMTRAK customer service? Best, Chris

Delta pulling out at Oakland? 

Chris: You continue to report that among the other “big name” carriers, that Delta has “pulled out” of OAK; Delta has suspended the flights for Covid-19 protection reasons yet even back then, the articles all over Bay Area media, mentioned until (at least) September; a suspension is not the same as a permanent pull-out, as American has done— for a second time now, although this time post-merge with US airways. Furthermore, until covid became more serious, Scott Kirby of United mentioned coming back to OAK. Kindly acknowledge the resuming of service for Delta at OAK September 8th, for as long as said date holds. Thank you. –David

Hi David: Thanks for your note. I’m always amazed at how closely our readers follow our weekly airline routes updates every Saturday. It’s a lot of information to keep up with every week! I’ll include your email in our Reader Questions post this week, and we’ll cover it again when or if Delta touches down at OAK again in September.  Best, Chris.

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Chris McGinnis is SFGATE’s senior travel correspondent. You can reach him via email or follow him on Twitter or Facebook. Don’t miss a shred of important travel news by signing up for his FREE weekly email updates!

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