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Air Travel & Global Pandemic

Clusterf*ck of international air travel in the beginning of 2021.

Air Travel & Global Pandemic - Clusterf*ck of international air travel in the beginning of 2021.
This blog post applies only to the international air travel in the first part of 2021. Domestic flights may not be similarly affected by the COVID-19 restrictions. Some recommendations in this blog post are U.S.-centric.


Yes, I know. Air travel during a global pandemic seems like a very silly thing to do. Especially an international air travel. But before you make your judgement, consider the fact that people have to resort to traveling due to possible emergencies, work related requirements, or maybe due to an international business that they had before the pandemic hit, or maybe just to see their loved ones. There are many reasons why someone would need to travel.

So if you're one of the people who has to make an international trip in the early 2021, before you buy your tickets and head out to the airport, take a few moments to read the following. I had to travel internationally in the late 2020, and also have to do it again in 2021. Thus, let me share my experience and some of my research into the changes that came about in the early 2021.

Table Of Contents

Here's the table of contents for a quick access:

COVID-19 Test Types & Requirements

At the first glance, this seems like a minor hindrance. You think you'd show up at an airport, they'd put that Q-tip-looking thing up your nose, swirl it around to do their tests, and then you can continue on your merry way, right? Well, this is mostly an image that you see on the news these days. In reality the COVID-19 test needed for air travel has become much MUCH more complicated and anxiety inducing.

It used to be somewhat simple. Some countries (not all) required a negative COVID-19 test to enter. Like Kenya, for instance. But it was an easy thing to get. There were many clinics in the US that would provide your run-of-the-mill COVID test for a fairly small fee. Then they would email you a PDF with the results, that you could print out before your flight, or maybe even show it to the border agent right off your phone. And that was it.

Well, this simple procedure was changed in 2021!

Now, pretty much every country on earth seems to have come up with their own crazy regulations for the COVID-19 test. Just to name a few:

  • RT-PCR Test: Almost all countries now require a special PCR coronavirus test before you can even board a plane. What is that, you may ask?

    Good question. I didn't know myself just a few days ago. You can research it yourself, but in a nutshell PCR is a simpler test, while RT-PCR (or a "Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction Test") is more involved and provides more accurate results, but it also takes longer to do.

    To make matters more complicated, there are different methods of obtaining samples for the COVID tests: one is your conventional nose-probe Q-tip swab (that we see most often on TV), or nasopharyngeal test, but then there's also a saliva or a mouth swab test. Note that both can be used for the PCR test.

    Then there's Transcription-Mediated Amplification, or TMA test, that is generally done and accepted in the U.S. but may not be accepted in other countries. So be aware of it. (I witnessed it with my trip to Kenya.)

    And there's also something called a LAMP test. (And no, it is not called that because it's done with a lamp.) It stands for "Loop-Mediated isothermal Amplification" (kinda close to being a LAMP.) This is a faster test that can be done within just a few hours, but it is less accurate.

    Additionally, there's also an Antigen Test (also known as a "Rapid antigen test") that is usually very fast to do. This test is often done within minutes to hours, and may be required right before departure by some countries.

    Note that every country has their own regulations for what COVID-19 test they require from the arriving passengers. Moreover, there's no single online resource to get it from. Read my suggestions below for more details.
  • 72-Hour Window: Most countries require you to do the COVID-19 test 3 days prior to your departure. Some may give you one extra day, and extend it to 96 hours. But here's another gotcha: do they measure this time from "departure" or from "arrival"? There's a difference, you know! So make sure to get that wording right.
    I've seen multiple online resources where there was a mix of references to arrival or departure, which obviously didn't help! In this case only rely on the government websites for the destination country.
  • Authorized Labs: Some countries limit your choice of labs where you can do your COVID-19 test. Like Kenya, for instance, has a list of labs that they recognize (read here the full procedure). To make matters worse, the list may be hard to read and to retrieve, and the labs listed in it may be hundreds of miles away from where you live.
    In this case one solution may be an at-home COVID test kits. These can be usually shipped overnight to the lab, with a 24-hr processing time. Later on, you should be able to download your result as a PDF document.

    The obvious downside of this solution is its extra cost. In my current research these at-home kits cost from $250 to $290 USD, and required extra time to get the results (i.e. at least 48 hours.) They also brought an additional dependency on the kit being delivered on time, and on you performing the test correctly at home. All this becomes quite unsettling considering the fact that you are also time constrained.

  • Uploading Test Results: Another example (like with Kenya) is when a country requires passengers to upload their COVID-19 test result to a certain online portal (this one for Kenya) to receive a QR-code before the flight. This obviously complicates things even more, especially with a limited time that they give you to do all this.
  • Layovers & Transits: To make it completely bunkers, note that some countries may also require their specific COVID-19 test even when you are just transiting through their country, like during a layover on your way somewhere else.
    I provided some suggestions on handling layovers further down this blog post.

Confusion and Upselling

As you could probably imagine, requiring a myriad of confusing COVID-19 tests is just the tip of the iceberg of the clusterf*ck that the international air travel has become now. There're also questionable business practices and upselling that one needs to watch out for.

To give you just a few that I've witnessed myself:

Ordering Tickets - Delta

Since most of you will probably order your international flights via some aggregator like Priceline,, Google Flights, etc. You are probably familiar with a process and how much those websites seem to rush you when you try to look up a good deal. (Did you try to refresh the page to see if your results stay the same? Answer: they may not.)

So it is no wonder that a sufficiently busy webpage with the flight purchase details may include a lot of upselling and scare tactics to try to convince you to sign up for some fishy services that you don't need.

Here are a few examples:

  • COVID-19 Test Warning: Note that although the Google Flights main listing had a small message on top warning about a requirement for the COVID test, the following Delta Airlines booking page had none of such warning:
    'Review and Pay' page
    "Travel Restricted" warning from Google Flights with a link to this page.

    Also note that even the Google Flights warning was not imposing enough to deliver the complexity of what I'm explaining here.

  • Nonrefundable Tickets: It is so easy to overlook the fact that once you pay for the tickets, you will not receive a refund if you cancel. Can you spot that small line under the listing for the main booking from the Delta website?
    'Review and Pay' page
    "Review and Pay" sample of the Delta Airlines booking page, with the "Nonrefundable" warning at the bottom-left.

    And although they claim to be waiving all the change fees until the end of March 2021, keep in mind that normally there are also fees associated with you re-booking your flights.

    Here's a quote from the Delta page that is originally hidden in a popup:


    Nonrefundable Fares Have Special Requirements and are ineligible for a refund.
    You may need to purchase your ticket either 7, 14, or 21 days prior to your flight.
    Changes to your itinerary are generally permitted upon the collection of an Administrative Service Fee and any difference in the applicable fare.
    You may need to travel on selected days/times.
    - Delta Airlines
  • Upselling & Insurance: This one is just outright evil. Look at another example from the Delta Airlines booking site. At the bottom of the page, right before you click to pay for the tickets, there's this misleading "Trip Protection" paragraph.

    It is originally not filled out. So here is how it will look like:

    'Trip Protection' upsell page
    "Trip Protection" sample of the Delta Airlines booking page, with the "Allianz" travel insurance upsell.

    Notice those keywords that tend to lull you into complacency:

    • "Your safety first"
    • "Compensation: Up to 100% reimbursement ..."
    • "Reliable benefits"
    • "Peace of mind"
    • "Help when you need it: 24/7 live"

    And the worst of all - see the text if you select 'No' - "No, do not protect my $1,197.35 trip".

    Then finally, here's how the page will look like if you choose 'No':

    'Trip Protection' upsell page
    "Trip Protection" sample of the Delta Airlines booking page, with the "Allianz" travel insurance upsell when 'No' is selected.
    I understand by declining coverage I may be responsible for eligible non-refundable expenses.
    - Allianz Global Assistance

    Nice, hah? I bet they paid a lot of money to some psychiatrist/shrink to come up with all this stuff.

    I also bet that Allianz Global Assistance pays a lot of money to Delta Airlines to include that exact wording and graphics on their booking page.

    So what's really going on here?

    When you sign up, they will charge you $89.80 right away and you will receive a 50-page PDF document (I am not kidding, I received one) with all the minutiae of what they don't cover. I mean, it would probably take me the whole day to go through it. 😂

    Then later that same day, I received another email with the subject line "Important information regarding COVID-19 and your plan coverage" that basically informed me that their travel insurance has limitations for the COVID-19 coverage.

    Hah!? Limitations? Allianz Insurance, why do you think people click on your "Trip Protection" link while booking tickets during the COVID-19 pandemic? Is it because people are afraid their house would get flooded, or a car stolen? No! You idiots, it's because they are afraid that their trip will be canceled because of the COVID-19!

    So here's an excerpt from the email I received later from the "Allianz Global Assistance:"

    Dear Valued Customer,

    Thank you for your recent purchase of an Allianz Travel Protection Plan. Given the current unique and evolving circumstances related to the unprecedented concern over COVID-19, the disease caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus, we want to take this opportunity to remind you how our products and services are working to protect you both prior to your departure and while you’re enjoying your trip.

    Our plans do not generally cover claims due to COVID-19. This is because our products do not generally cover losses caused directly or indirectly by known, foreseeable, or expected events, epidemics, or government prohibitions, warnings, or travel advisories. Nor do our products generally cover for fear of travel ...

    However, for a temporary period, although not covered under most plans, we are currently accommodating claims for:

    1. Under Emergency Medical Care Benefit: Emergency medical care for a customer who becomes ill with COVID-19 while on their trip.

    2. Under Trip Cancellation or Trip Interruption Benefits: Trip cancellation and trip interruption if a customer becomes ill with COVID-19 either before or during their trip.

    - Email from Allianz Global Assistance

    I'll skip through most of the legalese. Here are conditions for them to refund for the trip cancelation due to COVID-19:

    You may be eligible to cancel your plan and receive a refund of your plan cost in the following situations:

    - You have 15 days from the date your plan was purchased.
    - Additionally, for a temporary period, we are offering refunds for the cost of your plan if your travel supplier cancels your trip due to COVID-19, as long as no payable claim has been filed under the plan, and you do not wish to apply your plan to a future trip.
    - Email from Allianz Global Assistance

    So cagey and very deceiving ...

    Finally, if you don't believe me see what others have said about this company at the Better Business Bureau.

COVID-19 Test Labs & Costs

The confusion caused by imposing of the government restrictions added nothing but a mushrooming business of private COVID-19 test labs advertising to "offer help" (for a steep fee.) A large number of such labs have already sprung up around major airports, all trying to price gouge desperate passengers.

Here's the price quotes that I received for February 2021:

  • COVID-19 Antigen Test with availability in minutes to hours usually costs around $100 to $200 per person and is done around an airport.
  • PCR Test will cost around $125 to $150 with a 2-day processing, or for a premium of $175 to $200 with a 36-hr turnaround.
  • RT-PCT Test with the fastest processing of around 24hr to 36hrs will cost you from $250 to $300.
  • At-Home Test Kits are advertised to be delivered within 24-hrs and processed within the next 24-hr period and cost around $250 to $300.

What is also amazing is the way price-gouging gears seem to be turning for some lab owners. I've been sending out emails to various labs, asking them if they had at-home kit since I live in about 2-hr drive from a major city. And I can tell that some are really eager to deliver on the COVID testing craze. Here's one reply that I received (verbatim):

We don’t provide at home testing at this time. Next month we will provide.

Currently, our test is ordered by a registered physician and we results same day as received.

- President, Innovative Gx

I bet this guy sees dollar signs in that business venture. 😂

Some labs are also so careful and cagey not to reveal anything, that the conversation turns into an absurd. Here's one I had with an outfit called "Sameday Testing":

I was wondering if I you provide at-home kit to do a COVID test for traveling to Kenya? The following are their requirements:
Type: RT-PCR
Test must be done 4 days before the arrival to the destination.
I am currently located in <redacted>, Washington.
Thank you.

Same Day Testing Support:
At this time at home services are only available in LA. The only location we have in Washington is in Seattle.
You can visit our website to view other locations near you.

Thank you. At that Seattle Washington location, can you let me know what type of COVID tests do they perform?
Again, I need RT-PCR test only.
And also how soon can I get the results?

Same Day Testing Support:
You have two options:
- standard PCR test with insurance is no charge depending on the insurance carrier but there is a 72 hour turnaround time.
- priority PCR test is $175 and there is a 36 hour turnaround time
You can book the appointment by clicking here.

Thank you for that information.
Again, can you please confirm, if I go for the $175 test with a 36-hour turnaround, is it a PCR or RT-PCR test?
That part is important for the destination of my travel.

Same Day Testing Support:
We recommend you confirm the type of test you need with the airline or airport you plan to travel to.
You have 2 options and both are PCR tests the only difference is one is standard delivery and the other
is priority delivery meaning the turnaround time is different to receive the results.
If you need further assistance you can also call for a live operator at <phone-number>

- Chat with Sameday Testing Support

So as you see, some aren't even willing to dedicate resources to a decent customer service. Unfortunately, something tells me that there's no shortage of clients for that "Same Day Testing" outfit.

Suggestions & Workarounds

So having scared you enough, let me give you a few tips and suggestions on how to navigate all this confusion surrounding the international air travel these days.

  • COVID-19 Test(s): These are important to do right. Make sure to find out which tests the government of the country of your destination, as well as the countries where you will have your layover(s), require.

    Also note that I said tests. You may need multiple COVID-19 tests! I already explained the types of COVID-19 tests and other requirements above.

    Follow these tips to find it all out:

    • Search online for the government resources of the country where you will be arriving to, and where you will have your layovers.

      A good search word could be country covid test for travel, where you would replace country with the actual country name of your destination or a layover. (Here's an example for Netherlands.)

      Or, use this search word to check for a layover requirements: country transit covid test. (Here's another example for Netherlands for a layover.)

    • If you are traveling to the U.S. use this CDC guide for details on the types of COVID-19 tests that they accept.
    • Delta also provides this page with some information.
    • Additionally this resource provides travel restrictions grouped by country.
    • Contact the airline and ask them which COVID-19 tests you will need. I gave details here.
    • It is important to note that even where you are traveling from, within a larger country (like US), may make a difference. Check this chat for an example.
  • Layovers: Any international connecting flights (or layovers) can be a pain the ass, especially during a global pandemic. So if you can pick a route with as few layovers as possible, absolutely do so.

    A direct flight could be preferred. But if you have to go for a layover, do the following:

    1. Make sure that there is at least an hour and a half for your layover, especially when changing air carriers, or for connecting flights between different countries. You cannot imagine how disorganized and disconnected air regulations are between countries. So please give yourself time to navigate through all that red-tape.
    2. Layovers by the same air carrier should be preferred. They will be able to coordinate their flights better.
    3. Pick as few layovers in foreign countries as possible!
    4. For any layover in a new country, check their COVID-19 requirements for transits. Don't just assume that there're none! (Also double-check it a few days before your departure. Government regulations may change quickly.)
    Make sure to check at the official government website of the country where you are planning to have a layover. Again, unfortunately there's no unified resource to retrieve that information. So use your search engine of choice to search for: country transit covid test (where country is the actual country you are transiting through. Here's an example for Netherland.)
  • Travel Insurance: Most types of insurance are a sleazy business at best. So be very careful who you pay for insurance. Ideally you would deal with an insurance provider that you already have coverage with. (You can save money by doing this as well.) It would be also good if you or your family members had any previous experience dealing with the claims department of that insurance company, as that would be a real test of how good an insurance company can be at delivering on their promises.

    As a rule of thumb though do not buy insurance if you did not ask for it!

    Like in the example above, you can clearly see those upselling tactics, like I showed with the Allianz insurance, that offered all the right words before you sign up, only to reveal later that they don't really cover that much about COVID-19 or epidemics in general. 😂

    So be very careful with insurance.

    Lastly, if you are not sure and want to find out about some company before you pay or sign up, search their business for any complaints on the Better Business Bureau website. Or, use the following search phrase in your search engine of choice: "company name" scam or "company name" fraud, where you would substitute company name with the actual name of the company. Here's an example for the Allianz Global Assistance.

Airlines Contacts

To verify your findings about the needed COVID-19 tests, I would suggest contacting one of the airlines that you will be flying with. Unfortunately this is easier said than done, because most of them don't make it easy. Here's a few links with information how you can contact them:

From my personal experience I would strongly advise to contact an airline representative via a social media platform. I personally like DMs on Twitter, or a Facebook messenger. Most reps usually reply fairly quickly. The advantage of using that method is this: first, you can be sure that your message was replied or not. There's no possibility that it can get into a Spam folder, like it may with emails. And two, you can just type your question instead of going through a lengthy multiple choice options menu. Just make sure to make your question short and straight to the point. Don't ask too many things either.
Additionally, you may want to download a smartphone app for the airline that you will be flying with. It often has a much better chat or a messaging option. In that case, keep in mind, that they will most certainly require you to create a free account. A smartphone app can be also useful to receive your flight updates via push notifications on your phone.
As I've learned with my own experience, do not trust the first response you get from the customer service person. Either hang up and try again, or confirm from another source (like a government website for the destination country.)

Here's my example.

I first contacted the Delta customer support rep about the need for a COVID-19 test for a connecting flight through Amsterdam, and received the following response:

Hi! Thanks for messaging with Delta! My name is <redacted>. I'll be happy to assist you! Yes, currently even if you are connecting in AMS, a negative covid 19 test is required 72 hours within your departure time along with a lamp test 4 hours prior.
- Delta rep

A few days later, I used another method to ask the same question and had the following conversion with another Delta rep:

Hello. My name is <redacted>. My ticket confirmation number is <redacted>. I will be flying to Nairobi, Kenya with a layover in Amsterdam
and on the way back, in France. I will have RT-PCR coronavirus tests done for Kenya and for US (for the flight back.) Can you let me know if I also
need any specific COVID tests for the layovers in Netherlands and later in France? Thank you.

Delta Rep:
Hi! Thanks for messaging with Delta! My name is <redacted>. I'll be happy to assist you!

Hi <redacted>. Thank you

Delta Rep:
For AMS a negative covid test is required 72 hours prior to arrival thru.


Delta Rep:
Checking for France

Thank you

Delta Rep:
Yes. France requires the same.

Thank you. One follow up question, if I may.

I saw somewhere that AMS also requires a LAMP test done 4 hrs prior to departure. Can you confirm that?

Delta Rep:
That is if you are on the direct flight from ATL.

Oh. So I don’t need the LAMP test for a layover/connecting flight through AMS then?

Delta Rep:
From where?

Seattle -> AMS -> Nairobi Kenya. Layover in AMS.

For 4 hrs

Delta Rep:
Checking now.

Ok. Take your time.

Delta Rep:
Yes that test is required from SEA.

Ok. Thank you.

Can you please check the same for the flight from NBO (Kenya) to CDG (France)?

Delta Rep:
That is only a requirement through AMS.

Oh I see. So none for France, correct?

Delta Rep:
That is correct.

Ok. Thank you for your help. I don’t have any further questions.
- Char with a Delta rep

I hope that you get the picture - that one needs to ask multiple questions and verify any information that they give you.


I will try to update this blog post with more information as I learn it myself and as I go for my trip later this year.

To be honest though, I'm not sure where we are all going with this and what is causing more damage - the disease itself or the overreaction, panic and the resulting confusion that it is causing? I cannot even begin to imagine the losses of business, revenue and reputation that the airline and travel industries in general will sustain over all this. One can only guess.

Lastly, I hope that we all make it through and emerge unscathed on the other side ... so that we can read this blog post in the future as a relic of the past and laugh at the ridiculousness of the international air travel that we had to go through in the year 2020 and now in 2021.

Good luck, everyone!

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