HONOLULU (KHON2) — Officials are working on smoothing out the verification process for the pre-travel testing program that launched Thursday. Long lines and missed flight connections were a few of the problems that passengers faced as the state reopened to visitors.
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The pre-travel program allows people to avoid the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine if they get a negative COVID-19 test from a trusted testing partner within 72-hours of their arrival in Hawaii.
Lieutenant Governor Josh Green said some hiccups were expected on the first day of the pre-travel testing program.
“If you’ve chosen to fly on the first day after us being closed for seven months, I’m very confident people should be understanding.”
Lt. Gov. Green said there were some lines at the airport because five flights landed within an hour of one another causing a backlog.
“But if you flew in at the hours when the flights were staggered it went very efficiently,” Lt. Gov. Green added.
Most of the passengers who completed the pre-test were happy to be in Hawaii without having to go through the quarantine.
Haydel-Lynn Leyco flew from California with her parents to visit her brother who lives in Hawaii. Leyco said they rescheduled their trip three times and specifically waited for the program to start. They got their negative test results yesterday and made sure to upload it to the Safe Travels Website.
“I thought it was pretty effective. It was a good thing for us we already had our CVS results uploaded,” Leyco said.
But it didn’t go smoothly for everyone. Some people missed connecting flights.
Neighbor island airports were also backlogged from an influx of flights arriving simultaneously.
Simon Walton and his partner flew from California to Kauai for vacation. They, too, planned their trip for the start of the pre-travel testing program.
Walton said that when he went through the verification process, he was told that he had to quarantine even though he completed all the steps on the Safe Travels website.
“They didn’t seem to understand the information that they were looking at, or what the process was of what they needed to do.”
Kauai County officials said in a statement:
“He may not have been screened properly when transiting from Oahu to Kauai. These “transit” travelers, whose final destination is a neighbor island with a layover in Honolulu, appear to be the most challenging to screen as they are given two separate QR Codes.”
Department of Transportation (DOT) spokesperson Tim Sakahara said that he thought things went “very well.” He said that they are aware that there were some issues and that they’re trying to streamline the process.
“We’re all trying to see what worked, see what maybe didn’t work as well as anticipated, and everybody’s adapting. It is important to note that everyone arrived safely,” said Sakahara.
Lt. Gov. Green said that the DOT is working on new protocols at some of the airports.
“They’re gonna move some of the second testing out from Big Island over to the hotels. Ford is rearranging some of the flights so that they can come into other gates, so he can spread out his workforce, they’re going to do the same, I believe on Maui,” Lt. Gov. Green said.
In a statement Hawaiian Airlines said:
“We delayed some of our Neighbor Island departures – mostly around the peak transpacific arrival period in Honolulu – to give travelers time to connect onto our flights and we were able to accommodate all our guests to their end destinations. We are continuing to inform our guests about the pre-travel testing program so they know what to expect and arrive prepared.”
Sakahara said DOT is working with the airlines to try to prevent another traffic jam with multiple flights arriving all at once.
According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, 8,219 passengers arrived Thursday, with a higher percentage of them returning residents.
“Normally, 15% of travelers to Hawaii are returning residents. Yesterday, it was 30 percent,” Lt. Gov. Green said about Thursday’s numbers.
Lt. Gov. Green said that they were expecting 30% to 40% fewer passengers to arrive Friday and Saturday.
If passengers have issues upon arrival during the verification process or non-technical problems with the Safe Travels website, they can call 1-800-Go-Hawaii.
All travelers need to register on the Safe Travels website before arriving in Hawaii — that will speed up the verification process at the airport.