International Travel Still a Headache in the Age of COVID

It begs the question: why have other developed countries seemed to figure out workable protocols that the U.S. still can’t grasp?

As we enter the third year of the pandemic and restrictions start to ease, many of us are feeling the urge to travel again. Travel always comes with risk, stress, and hassle, but layer on a pandemic and it’s a whole new ballgame. 

Recently I had the opportunity to travel internationally to visit a relative. The first step to international travel in January 2022 was deciphering the destination country’s COVID requirements. This was challenging, because the rules changed every few weeks, or several times from the time I committed to traveling to the time I actually travelled. Language barriers made it even more interesting, as the rules posted by the destination country had to be translated to English. English can be a tricky language if it is not your native language. Misplace a few key words in a sentence during translation, and the already complicated rules become more challenging to decipher.

Ultimately, as the time for departure approached, the destination country’s entry rules included proof of vaccination and a negative COVID test. Thus began the most challenging portion of my trip. The COVID test needed to be an antigen test, with a certified negative result, performed and completed within 24 hours of my arrival at my destination. Scheduling the appointment for the test was easy enough, but getting a test result back in 24 hours proved impossible. On the day of departure, I arrived at the airport with no test results.

I was not alone. The check-in area was swarmed with people in the same situation. The test had been performed, but labs were backed up and test results were delayed. There was a testing facility on the concourse, but to get to it, you needed a boarding pass, and you couldn’t get a boarding pass without a negative test result in hand, so that was frustrating. The airline personnel offered directions to another testing site, 20 minutes off airport property, which claimed “results within two hours” for a $200 certified antigen test. Still, as they handed us the driving directions, they informed us that even this site was not getting test results in under 24 hours, so proceed with caution. Most travelers were on their second or third run at this and had already rebooked multiple times while awaiting results, or repeated the test as the 24-hour clock started over with each rebooking. Feeling defeated and disappointed, I headed home with my thoughts. How could a country like America be looking at the third year of a pandemic and still not have found a process for timely testing? How have so many other countries figured this out, but we still, at least in my area, have people waiting a week for an appointment even to get tested, and then waiting three more days for results? Other countries have been providing routine daily testing to their citizens; how are they pulling that off, but we can’t figure it out? That’s when the answer to my predicament materialized. 

The United Kingdom (UK) had just lifted all its COVID restrictions; the only requirement for entry was proof of vaccination. Once in the UK, testing is available everywhere, for a nominal fee. With a plan in hand, I rebooked my trip for the next day, this time to London. I have to say that the airline was incredibly accommodating with the rebooking due to COVID testing issues. Much to my surprise, it did not attach fees or penalties. 

After booking my new trip with British Airlines, I was automatically routed to a website that let me quickly and easily find and pay for a COVID test with the medical consultation required to certify the result. The fee was 25 pounds (roughly $32). Upon arrival at my destination in London, the test I had ordered only 24 hours earlier was waiting for me. With the test in hand, at my scheduled time I logged on to the link that had been emailed to me, wherein a medical professional promptly greeted me at the exact start time of my appointment. She watched me perform the test on camera, confirmed the negative test result, and emailed me a certified test result before we hung up. The whole process took 20 minutes, and I had accomplished it all within three hours of landing in London (something I could not accomplish in three days, at home in America). The result for the test I had undergone at home, before departure, was still pending in a lab somewhere. 

With a negative COVID test in hand, I proceeded to my final destination (France) and had a fabulous visit. The people, the history, the architecture, and the art I saw made the hassle and the delay more than worth it. To return home, I needed another negative test to enter America. So I simply repeated the process. I ordered a test online, and it was delivered in less than 24 hours. I scheduled another online appointment the day before departure – the appointments were available around the clock – so scheduling was a breeze. 

After another very pleasant visit with an online medical professional, and 20 minutes later I had the necessary COVID documentation, a camera full of photos, and a heart full of beautiful memories as I made my return to America.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Morrissey is one of the newest members of the RACmonitor editorial board, and has written a three-part series on the competing interests of the primary players in the healthcare arena.


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