The secret of the Hawaii Covid wristband

It was my first trip to Hawaii: before I went, I read a thousands official websites, downloaded six new apps, paid hundreds of dollars for special covid tests and uploaded multiple copies of vaccination cards to multiple apps and websites. And when I got to the airport I still ended up on a frantic call with a travel agent, minutes before we were due to board.

genuine warning sign in Hawaii

So let me break it down and remove all the redundant and ridiculous stuff that you don’t need — leaving only the things you do.

  1. get a plane ticket. Find the fine print that says something like “travel ready” and read all of it. This will supersede anything on this post. Requirements seem to change weekly, if not hourly. I’m not kidding. Better still: download the app for the airline (they seem to be making app download near-mandatory to keep up with the changing travel requirements, so just bite the bullet and add another unwanted app to your phone)
  2. be vaccinated and boosted. You will be asked to upload your card to the Hawaii Safe Travels website. There are many ways to meet the requirement to go to Hawaii. You don’t need to do all of them, you just need to completely do one of them. For example, if you opt for a negative covid test, that test must be from a “trusted partner” — this means it is probably going to be expensive. Note that Hawaii only accepts a NAAT test which is not a PCR or At-home viral test. It is a lab test done by a (let’s review) trusted partner.
  3. While Clear appears to be a trusted partner site, I went through all the hoops to get a green screen for Hawaii from Clear and it did absolutely nothing for getting me to Hawaii except keeping me from having to show my state ID at the Denver airport. I would have been fine with showing my state ID and not doing all the Clear hoops.
  4. (this is the step I completely missed) Look for an email from your airline within 24 hours of your flight (NB: I traveled on United and this might be different on other airlines. United requires that you speak to an agent within 24 hours of the flight and that agent will manually link your state of Hawaii health screening with your online boarding pass. You must have the United App to do this. When you have spoken to an agent you refresh the app and there is a green “travel ready” note on your boarding pass.
  5. The airline will give you a wristband. The whole goal of this whole post is getting the wristband. It’s this mecca of travel that lets you walk out of the Hawaii airport without stopping in a long line.

Here’s the secret: without this wristband you can still travel to Hawaii but you will be very nervous. First at the ticketing counter, they will look at your perfectly valid boarding pass and say “you’re not travel ready” because your boarding pass lacked a little green oval.

PSYCH!! this very official looking pass from CLEAR means nothing at all at the gate of United. They want you to be “travel ready” not immunized, boosted, and carrying a printed copy of your negative NAAT test. None of that helps you on you outbound fight (but it is what they want at the other end, in Hawaii)
This is what MUST be on your boarding pass for the gate agent to not usher you to the loser line of people who will be showing their green Hawaii pass and recent negative NAAT test to the people on the Hawaii side of this whole business. (frankly it seemed like yet another way in addition to purchases not being allowed by cash or credit card on board, wifi being routed through, etc…to force passengers to download the United app.)
This is the chaos of people who did not have a little green oval, all of them are also yelling at each other through their masks. This is a high stress photo.
This is also a high stress photo. These are the people who THOUGHT they were travel ready, and some of them are, but everyone else is going to be sent to the loser space where they will yell at each other as they call United Agents standing by to link their documents to the United App.

If you opt out of all this, you will have to stand in a line in Hawaii to get your health screening done. You still have to bring along the negative covid test and all the other stuff. The line in Hawaii moved quickly and probably took about 20 minutes to snake through to the door. Everyone with a wristband walked past those people. So — basically you’re waiting on one end or another. Might as well be at the gate and not on the island.

So, to repeat: read the fine print, download the app, look for the email within 24 hours of flight, make the phone call to the agent, and calmly get on the line for your wristband from the gate agent. You can enjoy the fuss that others feel because they didn’t know there was a required phone call.

And if you fail to screen you can still go to Hawaii but you will have to quarantine for ten days. That seems like a lot of days for a weeklong vacation!

But friends: Hawaii is worth it.

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M. M. De Voe

M. M. De Voe

Fictionista, collector of obscure awards, admirer of optimists in the face of dread. Author of Book&Baby, an acclaimed guide for writer-parents. mmdevoe.com