Christmas tree and xmas market at Kleber Square at night in medieval city of Strasbourg - capital of Noel, Alsace, France.

The NFL just announced that it will stop testing fully vaccinated and asymptomatic players every week. Yep, it’s a bold move.

To some, this is a return of common sense in a place where everyone who wants to be vaccinated and protected has absolutely been offered the opportunity. To others, it’s seen as a highly brazen and cavalier move.

Like it or not, vital or not, testing before flying sucks and travel will never recover fully while it exists. Why? I never know if I’m going somewhere until the day before I travel. I never know if I’ll be coming back within 10 days of plan, until the day before I travel.

On every trip I take, I risk being separated from my family for at least 10 days longer than expected and at this time of year, any hiccup, even an asymptomatic positive test could mean quarantine for the holidays in a faraway place.

Christmas tree and xmas market at Kleber Square at night in medieval city of Strasbourg - capital of Noel, Alsace, France.

Travel With Fear

I’m a relatively fearless traveler, but it’s hard to enjoy any international movement right now. When traveling for work, it’s even worse.

I plan, I pay, and I don’t know if it’s all in vain until a $5 test in the days or hours before travel tells me if I can travel, no matter how many vaccines I’ve had, or how well I feel.

For leisure travel, it’s not ideal, but when work travel is required, and money is on the line for actually turning up, it’s a new level of chaos. Insurance? Yeah, fine, but that’s not the point. The point is, every trip creates extreme financial and sanity risk.

It’s the week before Christmas and I’m in Las Vegas, about 5,229 miles from where I currently call “home” in the UK. I came for a travel conference for which I would be a key speaker.

The conference, nor I, really knew whether I’d actually be coming until the day before I arrived, because like all other fully vaccinated people entering the US right now, I need a negative test no more than 1 day before travel.

Coming back to the UK, I’ll also need a test. If it’s positive, I’ll be forced to isolate in the USA for at least 10 days, which would see me spending Christmas in Las Vegas alone, a couple thousand miles from family and friends.

Spoiler alert: I already received my PCR test result (negative) before writing this, so I know I’ll be coming home. I just wanted to clearly illustrate the real jeopardy everyone faces on every international trip to or from destinations which require a pre-flight test, including the United States.

And of course, if it wasn’t good news, I’d need to book myself another 10 nights in a hotel too, which isn’t chump change in this busy city. For some, it might not even be financially possible.

passport-vaccine-card

Why Risk It?

That’s not really my take, or a feasible “plan” to get the world back together. That’s just negative energy.

If my family were to test positive prior to a leisurely vacation, we’d lose out on valuable sanity break time, actual money and potentially time already booked off work. We’d be able to try again, so it’s not the end of the world, but it’s really not reasonable.

With work travel, where fortunes, outcomes and careers can hang on “being in the room”, it’s just madness right now. No work trip that crosses a border is solidified until hours before, except when visiting countries that are recognizing vaccination status.

Spain, for example, doesn’t require most fully vaccinated visitors to take any covid-19 tests before arrival into the country. If I book a trip to Spain as a fully vaccinated visitor, I know I’m going — which is a huge differentiator to the rules in place in the US and UK, among countless others.

In places where vaccinations have been available to everyone, for free, for nearly a year now, I really struggle to see how much of a risk a fully vaccinated and boosted person is adding to any equation. In countries where that’s not true yet, it’s another story.

Spain recognizes the success vaccines provide in preventing severe illness or death, and continues to offer citizens opportunities to become vaccinated themselves. Why don’t others?

Does Pre-Flight Testing Work?

Pre-flight testing is a measure that makes a full international rebound impossible for the travel industry. In places where vaccine access has been limited and people have not had the opportunity to be vaccinated, it’s still important — but what about places where that’s not the case?

To date, there’s been very little evidence to show increased benefit to the trajectories of national health situations in countries requiring pre-flight testing, versus others that do not.

It’s one of those things that sounds good, if the pursuit is having “zero” cases, but I’ve yet to see an expert who believes there will be a world with zero cases, maybe ever. They’re something we must learn to live with, as with other endemic illnesses.

This would suggest viruses travel anyway — they definitely do — so in places where covid-19 vaccines are fully available, the harm to recovery, economy and consumer confidence brought on by testing might be greater than the marginal benefit of maybe weeding out cases from fully vaccinated people.

So What’s The Solution?

This may be a bit controversial, but it’s my blog and my take and I can write whatever I want. And yes, as regulars will know, I do!

As much as I think people who have refused vaccines are a bit nuts for refusing to accept the incredibly conclusive data about how effective they are in preventing severe illness, hospitalization or death, I do believe in vital freedoms and liberties to make personal choices with our bodies. That goes for all sexes.

On that basis, I think fully vaccinated and boosted people should be exempt from testing for travel between countries where vaccines are readily available to anyone who wants one. Kinda the same way that countries stopped require proof of other vaccinations, like Typhoid fever, from certain countries.

Instead of banning the unvaccinated, they should be required to test within 1 day of travel via an approved lab which uploads results to a block chain level security system, to prevent fraud, and then be presented with a digitally verified QR code.

No more BS results — of which many believe up to 50% are fake.

This would eliminate testing fraud and therefore guarantee that anyone unvaccinated was truly negative within a day of travel, which significantly moves the risk needle, yet still allows personal choice.

I’m 100%, all about making travel easier for those who’ve taken the crucial step in becoming fully vaccinated, and also about not creating a reductionist society where only people who do things one way are included.

I’d love to live in a world where people believe in science over Facebook — sorry, Meta — conspiracy theorists, but until then, this is my best take on moving away from these brutally worrisome testing policies for vaccinated people, while protecting freedoms.

I certainly think more people might consider getting vaccinated if there were big, clear hoops removed in various aspects of life just for doing so. The difference in getting a test before every flight, with no certainty of whether you’d be able to go, versus the freedom of knowing that if you’re vaccinated, you’re free to go, would be big.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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11 Comments

  1. Finally, a real article with a real opinion and one that makes a ton of sense. Thank you! Pass on the wealth of sensibility to the folks at TPG.

  2. Great article, but cant say I concur with all of your opinion.
    Maybe it’s just me sitting here in the UK with the current surge in cases, but regardless of what testing is enforced on me I still belief its a reasonable thing to test myself regularly . Certainly I test before meeting groups in the work environment, they may be vaccinated but maybe they aren’t or maybe their family members can’t be vacinnated. So if I test positive on one of these tests any work commitment is already out of the window.
    Travel I believe it’s even more important that I’m tested to increase my confidence (nothings 100%) I’m not going to pass on cv19 unnecessary to another traveller, colleague or transport worker.

    1. Oh I’m absolutely all for testing as a courtesy and will continue privately. The same way i wouldn’t attend a christmas party with the flu, I wouldn’t come with covid-19. I just think that the regimes in place for travel are adding too much jeopardy.

  3. I realize I’m in a unique position but here are my thoughts on the subject:

    – First of all I am retired and financially set so, worst case, I test positive before coming back from an international trip I have no problem quarantining for 10-14 days and paying the associated costs.
    – That being said I don’t have any international trips planned until March and my decision to go will largely be based on restrictions where I’m going, not my fear of catching COVID.
    – I am fully vaccinated and have gotten my booster shot. Also, while in mid 60s I have a very strong immune system and no significant co-morbidities.
    – I have traveled domestically, including numerous trips to casinos, since spring 2020 well before there was even a vaccine available
    – My view is you assess risks, make decisions best for you and live your life
    – I also frankly expect EVERYONE to eventually be infected with COVID. In the US there have been 51 million positive tests out of around 350 million people so more than 1 in 7. I realize some of these tests are redundant but also the actual number testing positive greatly understates the number of cases since many were asympomatic, had mild symptoms that were assumed to be cold/flu or knew they had COVID but avoided the test due to concerns over quarantine, missing work, etc. It isn’t unreasonable to assume somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of the US population has been already infected with COVID.
    – Given how transmittable the new variant is, I expect all to get it in some form or fashion. There is really no avoiding it regardless of what you do. If you are vaccinated and boosted you will likely not know you have it or have very mild symptoms but avoiding getting COVID really isn’t an option so people need to accept and deal with that.
    – Given all this I have no hesitancy in traveling and have no plans to take COVID tests before or after such travel except as required

  4. Will somebody in the USA Government advise me how flying from SE Asia to USA, I can get Tested, await my Results, catch a flight that may require 2 connections and achieve all this in the One Calendar Day System. The Majority of The Rest of The World works on a sensible 72 hours . We don’t all have Private Jumbo Jets with in-flight Health Facilities. Get Real USA.

  5. OMG I love you for this. I’ve always been a regular traveller, and the fear and uncertainty caused by the pre-flight testing is lethal. I did 10 round-trips this year when most countries were allowing entry with proof of full vaccination and, apart from the test to return to the UK, it was amazing. I’m now set to fly to the US 21-1-22 for business and it’s a mess. I’ll be there for 5 weeks, so want to do an airbnb, but they have a 28 day cancellation policy-meaning I’ll lose everything if I can’t go. But I won’t know until the day before if I CAN go, thanks to the test, which means I may not be able to find a place…or may have to pay through the nose for anything I can find. The stress is already keeping me awake at night.

  6. If only your system was in place. I would book tomorrow. I’ve not been on a plane for over 2 years now. I am missing travel so much.

  7. I feel for all the poor souls that have to fly for work.
    So much uncertainty and risk just to make your corporate overlord some money

  8. Okay, I have to jump in here. I am retired, 67 and I moved from New York City to a small town in Portugal. It is a boring town that shuts down in the winter. So I took a trip to London for a week just as Omicron was rearing its ugly head. While in London I caught Covid. I am fully-vaxxed and I am a fitness nut so in very good shape. I did not even know I had Covid. it’s called being asymptomatic. I took a PCR test to get back to Portugal and that was how my positive status was discovered. I had to self-isolate in London for 10 more days. I finished the isolation but I still test positive. The NHS says I may test positive for up to 90 days. Portugal will not let me back without a negative test result so I’m stuck in London for who knows how long. I was told to get a Covid Recovery letter from a doctor but the Portuguese Government refuses to accept it. So I can’t get back home. Now I am planning to go back to New York because the US Government will accept the Recovery letter. I am going to ask my landlord in Portugal to pack up my belongings and move back to New York. I think these travel restrictions are basically a good idea but Governments need to be more flexible. People also need to understand that after 10 days of having Covid you are no longer able to transmit the virus so you are no danger to others. People in the travel business should know this but don’t. My overseas retirement adventure is over, I will retire in New York City where I now know I belong.

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