Thinking about a getaway in Mexico, or a quick trip to another Caribbean island? You’ll soon need a negative COVID-19 test result before being allowed back into the U.S.
Sun Country Airlines, the small carrier that built a business on shuttling Minnesotans to balmy climates — including St. Thomas — during the coldest months, is now scrambling to prepare for the federal reporting requirements and to help its customers find COVID testing sites in foreign countries.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has mandated air travelers present proof of a negative COVID test to airlines before boarding all flights into the U.S. in an effort to curb the arrival of new coronavirus variants spreading rapidly in the UK, South Africa and increasingly around the world.
For the V.I. tourism industry, the change might actually be a boon as the CDC order does not apply to U.S. territories like the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
The requirement will complicate vacations for many and add to the expense. In some countries, an individual test can cost more than $300.
While a COVID test is not required to fly outward from the Virgin Islands, effective today the territory is requiring every traveler 5 years of age or older to receive a travel certification from the USVI Travel Screening Portal prior to boarding an inbound flight.
Testing is one of the best ways to help control the spread of COVID-19, the CDC says, which has tasked the airlines with being the nation’s gatekeepers.
Several of the major carriers, including Sun Country and Delta Air Lines, immediately offered customers the option to move up their international travel date to return before the new requirement becomes effective Jan. 26.
While many of Sun Country’s customers head to Florida or other southern states, passengers heading to some of its most popular destinations, like Cancun, Puerto Vallarta or Los Cabos will need to present documented proof of a negative COVID test taken within three days of their return flight home.
Sun Country flights to Mexico and the Caribbean are currently running about 40% to 50% capacity with the upcoming March spring break season being its busiest travel season of the year.
Executives for Delta told analysts Thursday that it supports the CDC’s testing requirement and is already seeing resorts at closer-in international destinations, like Mexico and the Caribbean, offer COVID testing as a part of their lodging package.
“I think it’s absolutely the right thing to do for the long term for our industry. But it’s going to create some short-term hiccups,” Delta’s chief executive Ed Bastian told analysts Thursday.
“This is something that we — Delta — endorse, and I know our industry similarly endorses,” he said. “But I think by having the testing protocols in place, it then gives confidence to the regulatory authorities to start to lift the (travel) bans, which is why we endorse the testing strategy.”
The CDC requires passengers present their negative test result to the airline. Sun Country said it will ask passengers to do so at the ticket counter before boarding the plane.
And, the extra expense of having a test within three days of your flight might not be the only expense the rule change costs. If you are unlucky enough to test positive expect to take a longer vacation in isolation and at your own expense. Once you can provide a doctor’s note confirming your recovery and clearing you for travel, along with proof of your original positive test result, the airline can permit you to board a U.S.-bound flight.