When countries started to reopen for summer travel and flight sales alerts flooded my inbox, I decided I was finally ready to board a plane for the first time in nearly 16 months. My destination of choice was Greece, a country I hoped to visit just before the pandemic that reopened to American travelers in May.
But deciding to travel turned out to be the easiest part: When booking my flight, I found myself going through an overwhelming amount of information about current protocols and requirements for entering countries. Questions with no clear answer continued to appear. Was there really such a thing as a vaccination passport, and how could I get one in time? In light of 2020 constantly changing, would readmission requirements change while I was abroad, leaving me stranded somewhere?
In my frantic search for answers, I was able to discover several online resources that have helped me out of the rabbit hole. To get started, travelers should take a look at the entry requirements for the country they plan to visit listed on the US State Department’s website. Then it’s time to start thinking about some other details. “Have a copy of your vaccination card handy and consider purchasing travel insurance in case there is an outbreak of new cases and the rules change again,” says Helane Becker, Cowen airline analyst .
Here are three easy steps to make sure you know all the requirements and have all the documents you need before you go to the airport for an international flight.
Take advantage of new airline resources
Some US airlines collect all the necessary information for their passengers in one place. The United Airlines Travel Ready Center is a one-stop-shop that describes all the tests or documents needed for international travel, organized by destination. âWhile pre-travel testing and documentation is essential to safely reopening global travel, we realize that travel requirements are constantly evolving and can be confusing for customers as they prepare for a flight,â said United spokesman Jonathan Guerin. âThe Travel-Ready Center will make it very clear what passengers need for their specific trip. ”
Delta has a similar tool that passengers can use before, during and after booking, called the Delta Discover Map. Passengers can easily enter their destination to see all entry requirements. The interactive map allows customers to search for their needs by airport or region in the world. There’s even an option to exclude the more onerous requirements from your search, such as destinations that still have mandatory quarantines. (United also offers a similar booking resource with its Destination Travel Guide.)
Vaccination card or vaccination passport?
An ever-changing aspect of international travel is the proof of vaccination or testing required across borders. The multiple explanations I found online for what was considered a “vaccination passport” made me even more confused as to what documents I would need to travel. Since digital immunization records were not set up by the U.S. federal government, the best physical evidence that U.S. travelers should keep handy is their official CDC immunization card.
Airlines facilitate proof of vaccination and negative test results with resources on their websites and apps. âGo online to the airline’s website and look for the Travel Ready section and upload your vaccination card or information to the website,â says Becker. It’s also a good idea to have a photo of your immunization card handy in your phone as a backup.
Schedule a test to return to the United States with ease
It’s not just your outbound flight that requires advance planning: to re-enter the United States, travelers must still test negative for COVID-19. Some resorts and hotels offer onsite testing for guests, but if you don’t have access to these services, don’t worry. Airlines take the guesswork out of researching tests.
In January, Delta announced a testing resource site that highlights COVID-19 testing locations within its international network. For a more seamless overseas testing option, United and Abbot have teamed up to offer customers Abbott’s BinaxNOW â¢ COVID-19 home test and Abbott’s NAVICA app, an option I found incredibly helpful in allaying my concerns about how to prove a negative result. United passengers can leave the United States with the BinaxNOW home test in their carry-on baggage and administer the test through the eMed digital health platform abroad, eliminating the need to find a test center during the trip. âAirlines will need to continue to streamline the process to allow passengers to digitally download their vaccination cards and potential boosters, as well as offer rapid testing at airports, which some places are already doing,â Becker said.
For passengers, being proactive in staying up to date with airline resources on flight and entry requirements is the best way to ensure you’re prepared.