Alaska Airlines Misses The Memo, Introduces Their Version Of Covid-19 Testing

United Airlines was first out of the gate announcing coronavirus testing at the San Francisco airport for passengers headed to Hawaii. Starting October 15, Hawaii will allow a negative Covid test within 72 hours of arrival to exempt a passenger from 14 day quarantine.

Hawaiian Airlines quickly followed suit with their own testing. American Airlines, getting left behind, announced a Dallas project and gathered up other pilot efforts and discussions to make a release that goes even farther, talking about how airport testing could open up new destinations.

Oakland airport even announced free testing for passengers headed to Hawaii, a competitive differentiator that could encourage passengers to fly from there over San Francisco or San Jose when visiting Hawaii.

Alaska Airlines, with its major West Coast presence, has a substantial Hawaii operation. So they’ve had to announce their own passenger testing option as well. And it’s basically ‘go get a test before your flight’.

  • No airport testing
  • Instead they’re ‘partnering’ with a Seattle downtown clinic
  • So passengers can go to a clinic and get a rapid test for $135
  • Tests are by appointment and results still take two hours, not 15 minutes

It’s not clear how this is ‘better’ than what passengers would do on their own.

Meanwhile Alaska says their partner will have “additional pop-up and full-service clinics for rapid COVID-19 testing” in other cities as Alaska resumes Hawaii service from Portland, San Jose, and San Diego November 1.

Alaska needed to announce something, I suppose, and they’ve announce something. But rapid tests that are administered downtown, take two hours for results, and cost $135 isn’t the sort of advance we’re seeing elsewhere. It’s not the convenience or price that holds the potential to really re-open travel, the way other airlines are promoting efforts might. Someone in Seattle missed the memo. Of course Southwest and Delta haven’t announced anything yet. Maybe that’s better and they’ll do it right.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Either everyone else is missing something, or I’m missing something! The Pixel at home Covid19 test is free to the consumer and can be processed by Fedex in a few days. The company either bills the patients insurance or the patient can declare no insurance and I believe they tap in to CARES Act funding.

    So, what am I missing?! This test is “free,” to the consumer, but all these airlines and other organizations are announcing these paid tests at $100 plus as if its an innovation!

  2. I would be happy to pay $135, even drive DC to Baltimore, and pay for parking if it meant I could fly to Hawaii.

  3. @Boston,

    Yep, that’s what I did for my trip to MA to avoid quarantine. Timing was a little tight but cost was right. Other folks just did the test provided by the county and got results even faster for no out of pocket costs.

  4. This is, sadly, par for the course for Alaska these days. It’s a “check the box” measure that ultimately falls a bit short of expectations and doesn’t hold up to direct competition.

    As a SEA resident and multi-year 75K on Alaska, it’s tremendously frustrating to watch Alaska spreadsheet their way toward irrelevance.

    A few years ago, Alaska’s tag line was “North of Expected”.

    These days it’s more accurately “south of expected”.

  5. @Boston: Yes, there are plenty of options for testing, it’s really not as hard as people make it out to be.

    But the difference is that Hawaii requires trusted or approved testing partners (I’m sure of the specific language). You can’t just use any PCR test if you want to go to Hawaii, it has to be a testing provider that is “on the list” so to speak.

  6. @Boston, the other thing you’re missing when you say it can be processed in a few days. but a few days isn’t good enough for Hawaii (or most other test-requiring entities) to let you in. While we should be ramping up testing massively to protect our population and it would be a better investment than most stimulus measures to make the testing free, at least let those willing to pay for a test and quick results do so. It will help everyone in that there would be better measures of how widespread COVID is, and at least those people will know to self-isolate if necessary.

  7. As someone who has visited the islands 20 times, I am in no hurry to try and find a way to get there again asap. I have two issues that have never been addressed by any of the powers/authorities that be and it is this.
    1) You need to plan and book your flight and hotel well in advance for said Hawaiian trip. It’s not like buying a ticket on Greyhound to go from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

    2) You now take the latest and greatest 72 hr magic-bullet test to avoid quarantine in Hawaii. Unfortunately for you or your fellow traveler(s) the results come back positive.

    Question: Who has addressed any refund policy in a situation like this and you know this WILL happen. Still too many unknowns in the mix. We will not go back until we have a vaccine that will be accepted by the state of Hawaii. I love Hawaii but just not that hard up to get there with so many unknowns. As an example, the mayor of Maui wants to be able to test visitors after being there 6 days. That is not my idea of a stress free vacation. Additionally I don’t want to walk around the island with a mask and social distancing still in full play. It’s their decision to mandate requirements for trans-pacific travelers and that only convinces me that without an effective and accepted covid vaccine Hawaii is out of the picture for us until at least May of 2022.

  8. @Luis T,
    Most all the airlines have eliminated change and cancellation fees so if you decide you can’t or don’t want to go up to 10-15 minutes before flight departure, you can cancel the ticket out. You will get an airline credit as opposed to a refund. If you are a frequent flyer, you should be able to use the credit on a future trip to the same or a different destination with in a year or so. I realize its more problematic if your not a frequent flyer.

    This is one net positive from these times. Before Mar, 2020 if you wanted to or needed to cancel your trip, you would readily be out $200 per person on most airlines to re-use your ticket value. A family of 4 would be out $800 right out of the gate for the cancellation. Even if you were ill, it would be burdensome to try to beg the airline to waive the $200 change fee.

    Now you can just rebook for next week or next year fully using the value of your unused ticket, and only would have to pay any fare difference.

    I’m not sure of the cancellation policies of typical Hawaii hotels or if they are now modified. I typically steer away from any sort of strict hotel cancellation policy for any trip becaudse I’m always changing my dates and I very well might wake up in the morning and decide not to go.

  9. At least it’s a quick and easy light rail ride from downtown to the airport? Really not sure why they didn’t just do it at the airport though, and 2 hours is a lot longer than it should be.

  10. I have to say Alaska had been my favorite airline for years
    But they have blown it since Covid and I’m shocked
    They had the best customer service of any us airline and frequently good value.
    Since Covid they have blown it
    Cut out all the non stops I was flying so I have to first fly to Seattle to go most anywhere (partially forgiven for now as business is bad)
    I’m stuck with thousands of dollars in my wallet
    Gold confirmed upgrades cease to work at all
    First class fares are 80k in miles one way to Hawaii yet 40 to 45 k on other major carriers
    Fares are outrageous unless flying some select coach routes
    I’m booking Delta American Hawaiian Airlines Southwest etc
    They lost my business indefinitely perhaps forever
    And now essentially shrugging off covid testing
    I don’t get the direction they are going as they know so much better
    Sad I had so much faith in them

  11. Using Pixel’s test requires one to certify either that one has symptoms, a specific risk of exposure, or specific risk factors. Many of us who would like to travel cannot truthfully answer yes to any of those.

  12. Boston,

    In addition to requiring use of “trusted lab partners,” Hawaii prohibits any test that is conducted entirely be the user, as they cannot be certain that the tested swap actually came from the named individual.

    There is a push to change that policy, but ultimate result is uncertain.

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