The nitty-gritty of traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic

Airlines will need to verify that every passenger from two years of age and up have provided a negative test result or proof of having recovered from COVID-19.

THE ALMOST empty Ben-Gurion Airport last week.  (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)
THE ALMOST empty Ben-Gurion Airport last week.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)
Governments fall, governments rise, but the ineptitude of elected leaders never ceases to amaze me.
By the end of January, every person flying into the United States will need a negative COVID-19 test. It won’t matter if you’ve been vaccinated, if you’re an American Citizen, or if you’re traveling up to Canada or down to Mexico; within three days of your flight to the US, you will need to get tested. The only ones who will be exempted are those who have survived COVID-19 and have the documentation to prove it.
As formulated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the negative pre-departure test must be a viral test that was conducted on a specimen collected during the three calendar days preceding the flight’s departure from any country outside the US.
Airlines will need to verify that every passenger from two years of age and up have provided a negative test result or proof of having recovered from COVID-19. The CDC spells out in jarring terms that they are implementing this order to achieve the following objectives:
• Preservation of human life.
• Preventing the further introduction, transmission and spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 into the US, including new virus variants.
• Preserving the health and safety of crew members, passengers, airport personnel and communities.
Passengers who are vaccinated and hold a “Green Passport” must also do the test based on two underlying factors.
First, even the most effective vaccines report a 95% effectiveness, which means five out of every 100 passengers are not protected. Second, there is no definitive research that those who are vaccinated are not carriers.
In fact, many scientists believe that those immunized can still carry the coronavirus and infect other people. That is why so many countries, from Canada to the United Arab Emirates, require a negative COVID-19 test.
Israel, in fact, is still on the list of those countries that have yet to make such a requirement due to concern over human rights issues.
Health officials said that those who have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 will receive a green passport valid for six months. For travelers, this will only provide exemption from quarantine when returning to Israel. This is not the case for those flying into the United Kingdom or into the US, for example, only when one flies back to Israel.
If you are flying on a connecting flight into the US, a valid test will be one that was taken no more than three days before your flight departs to the US, but only if the entire trip was booked under a single passenger record. In addition, each layover between those connections cannot be longer than 24 hours. If your connecting flight to the US was booked separately, or if you have a longer connection, you will need to get tested within three days before your final flight departs for the US.
Sadly, this means that last-minute tickets will become far more complicated, as getting a rapid response test is not commonplace in Israel. The tender for the laboratory at Ben-Gurion Airport was supposed to provide a rapid response test, and when Check2Fly was awarded the tender, the company spoke of having a test with results provided in four hours. To date, however, it has only managed a 14-hour response rate, which does zero good for anyone needing an emergency flight.
JUST AS important, especially for those who would exit the US for Canada or Mexico for a short period, are the following:
• If you are flying out of the country for less than three days, you can take a test in the US before you depart and use it for your return, or take a rapid test before your return flight.
• If your flight is delayed past the three-day window, you must take another test to board your flight.
Who will check test results at the airport? Most likely, you will be asked for documentation of a negative test from the first airline employee you have contact with at the airport. That could be at the ticket counter if you are checking in bags, or with the gate agent if you have no checked bags. Airlines must confirm the negative test result for all passengers before boarding, and must deny boarding to anyone who does not provide documentation of a negative test or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19, according to the CDC.
This will mean that you will not be able to check in online for your flight to the US. You will have to check in at the airport, so be sure to arrive in advance to give yourself enough time to do so.
What kind of documentation will you need to show? The CDC is requiring fliers to have a paper or electronic copy of their negative test results. I would recommend that travelers have a hard copy of their negative test results in English, as opposed to having them only on their phones. It might be difficult for an agent to read the document on your phone, and you do not want to give them an excuse not to board you.
If you have recovered from COVID-19 within the past three months, you will need both proof that you tested positive in the past three months before your flight and a letter from your doctor stating that you are cleared for travel. If you recovered from the virus more than three months ago, you will need to be retested.
What about Israel? Unfortunately, months have gone by with no such edict.
Rather than demand such negative tests, officials have raised the issue that we should simply close Ben-Gurion Airport for all incoming flights. Bureaucrats appear concerned that demanding returning passengers to provide a negative test to board a plane to enter Israeli airspace could be a human rights nightmare and that massive lawsuits would be filed.
The Justice Ministry has repeatedly noted that there is no legal obstacle to such a requirement. That 750,000 passengers have entered the country, with hundreds if not thousands bringing the virus to our shores, has not escaped notice. Their new rallying cry is so preposterous that it is hard to grasp. It is now being proposed to shut down Ben-Gurion Airport, lock stock and barrel. They would simply ban all outright travel from Ben-Gurion except for a few humanitarian reasons. I fervently believe that this proposal will never be seriously considered.
Israel will soon adopt, as have so many other countries, a negative COVID-19 test to fly into the country. Hotels are salivating, hoping this will happen soon in order to salvage some hope of tourism to Israel in the spring. We are a world leader when it comes to vaccinating our citizens, but failure to implement this basic requirement means we continue to let infected passengers into Israel. Shutting down the airport for any length of time would be both irresponsible and ineffective.
Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem. For questions and comments email him at [email protected]