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Woman holding a self-PCR COVID-19 test
Dominique VERNIER | Adobe Stock

How Do I Get a PCR Test in Time for My Flight?

SmarterTravel

We answer this question and ones on in-flight mask arguments, all-inclusive resorts, flight prices, and more in this month’s edition of our travel advice column.

Q. “I’m flying internationally and need a test taken within three days of my flight to enter my destination, as well as one to return to the U.S., and I’m nervous I won’t get results in time. How do I get a PCR test in time for travel?” –  KT

A. First, confirm with the airline what type of tests are accepted. Some will allow Rapid PCR tests, while others will only accept RT-PCR tests, which take longer. To reduce the chance of not getting your test result back in time to make your flight, I recommend scheduling two tests if possible, with the first test being taken as early as possible to still meet your 72 hour window. 

Check with your city to see what your testing options are. Many cities and towns are still offering free public COVID-19 tests. CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid also provide COVID-19 tests. Call the location you’re considering getting tested at to see what their current turnaround time is for results to make sure you’ll be able to get them back in time. Passport Health (which has locations around the country) is another good option, as they focus on COVID-19 tests for airline passengers.  

Also see if your airline or airport offers COVID-19 testing, as these are much more likely to get you the results in the timeframe that you need to fly. 

If you’re willing to pay, The COVID Consultants (an at-home testing service) will get you results in 24 hours. 

For your return trip, check with your hotel to see if they offer COVID-19 testing or have partnered with a testing location. If you’re unable to find a good option, the CDC recently changed the rules around COVID-19 testing for international flights returning to the U.S. and now allows the use of at-home COVID-19 tests that meet specific criteria. You could pack a test that meets those rules, like this one available through eMed, take it virtually, and get your results instantly.. 

Q. “Last time I flew, the person next to me wouldn’t wear their mask, and I felt too uncomfortable to say anything. What should I have done?” – DA

A. Flight attendants are definitely enforcing the in-flight mask rule, so ask one to remind your seatmate to wear their mask. I asked a flight attendant (who chose to remain anonymous), what happens if a passenger won’t wear a mask.

According to the flight attendant, they will “Kindly ask the passengers to keep their mask on unless eating or drinking (or of course have a disability and can’t wear one). If they refuse to wear one at the gate they will be denied boarding. If on the plane, and inflight and still not complying with us, we warn them it’s a federal law and the airline’s policy. Depending on how many warnings the passenger has been given (pilot’s choice) for not complying it could result in not being able to fly the airline. If they become disruptive, the plane lands at the nearest airport and authorities will meet the plane on the tarmac and take possession of the person.”

Q. “What cities have the most navigable public transit if you don’t want to deal with getting a rental car?” – MC

A. With rental car prices at record highs this summer, it’s understandable that you want to opt out of driving on vacation. Here’s SmarterTravel’s list of the top 10 cities with the best public transportation to get you started.

If you’re traveling anytime soon, keep in mind that some cities may have reduced service or even eliminated routes during the pandemic, so be sure to check for the most updated schedules online.

Q. “Are all-inclusives safe/a good idea in the pandemic? Where are the best ones?” – SS

A. All-inclusives have definitely adapted to the pandemic—expect to see a la carte dining rather than buffets, spaced out seating at restaurants, and frequent temperature checks at resorts. 

Although all-inclusives aren’t inherently safer than a regular hotel they can reduce the number of people that you come in contact with (if you’re not leaving the resort, you’re likely seeing the same people over and over again, vs. new people every time you leave your hotel). 

All-inclusives also tend to be owned by larger hotel chains, which have implemented a strict, standardized safety procedure across all their properties such as enhanced cleaning protocols or COVID-19 testing requirements.

The Caribbean is one of the best places for all-inclusive resorts, where you’ll find one for every budget and type of trip (from adults-only to a family reunion). My personal favorite all-inclusive is East Winds Resort in St. Lucia.

Q. “Flight prices seem to have shot way up since early April for a lot of destinations. Do you anticipate this continuing as things open more or is this basically the top/back to normal for fares?” – SB

A. High flight prices are unfortunately here to stay, and may even continue to rise over the summer. Flight search site Hopper has seen domestic airfare increase 12 percent since April, and expects prices to continue to rise a total of 16 percent overall this summer, with prices peaking in late June.

If you’re looking for a deal, consider booking a fall trip rather than summer, as Hopper predicts domestic airfare to drop in September before rising again in October.

International flight tickets will likely be even more expensive, with prices having already increased by 8 percent since April, when countries began to reopen to tourists. According to Hopper, international airfare to Europe is up 17 percent since the beginning of May, and round trip ticket prices are currently at an average of $880, a number that is expected to rise throughout the summer. 

Q. Can I get through TSA with 2 oz. of cannabis oil from Ontario, CA to Oakland, CA? – JL

A. Your cannabis oil will meet the TSA’s 3-1-1 liquid carry-on rule, but be aware that no matter the law around cannabis in the state you’re flying to/from, it is illegal under federal law if it contains more than 0.3 percent THC. The TSA advises, “TSA officers are required to report any suspected violations of law to local, state or federal authorities.” 

However, airport security isn’t actively seeking out cannabis when they’re doing their screenings. According to the agency, “TSA’s screening procedures are focused on security and are designed to detect potential threats to aviation and passengers. Accordingly, TSA security officers do not search for marijuana or other illegal drugs, but if any illegal substance is discovered during security screening, TSA will refer the matter to a law enforcement officer.”

Have a travel question you need answered? Email cteel@smartertravel.com to potentially be featured in next month’s column. 

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