Travel Agents Pushing for Change in International COVID-19 Testing Policy

Local agents say it’s impacting business and making people rethink their trips.

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You can drive from Mexico or Canada into the United States without proof of a negative COVID-19 test, but you can’t fly into the states without one.

Travel agents in Connecticut and around the country say it’s an executive order that needs to change.

“No other countries are requiring this testing. Other countries have realized that it’s not going to change the spread of infection and it’s not required to go out of the country,” said Amanda Klimak, president and co-owner of Largay Travel in Waterbury.

Klimak is also a member of the American Society of Travel Advisors.

She’ll be with fellow agents lobbying on Capitol Hill for change later this month.

“Probably one of the most absurd, irrational pieces of legislation that I’ve ever witnessed in my time,” said Paul Largay, CEO of Largay Travel, whose family business has spanned three generations.

Largay has not only heard of his clients having to quarantine overseas, but he was in the same boat too after disembarking from a river cruise in Lisbon, Portugal.

“And the doctor told me I had to quarantine for seven days. The concierge corrected him and said, ‘No, no, they’ve changed that to five,’” he said. “This is the greatest frustration we have is that no one really knows the rules -- including the doctors.”

It’s not just confusion and stress in countries overseas with the U.S. policies, but local agents say it’s also impacting business and making people rethink their trips.

Agents here in Connecticut have heard of folks faking doctors’ notes or even flying into Canada or Mexico and driving across the border to avoid getting stuck abroad since driving into the U.S. doesn’t require a test like flying does.

“When you do come back into the country, no one in the U.S. checks those test results, it’s all dependent on people overseas when you check in for your flight,” said Klimak.

It’s not just Largay Travel that tells us the executive order is ineffective.

French’s Worldwide Travel says it’s a nightmare.

And even a Wethersfield Travel agent and her family were stuck in Aruba after her daughter tested positive mid-trip.

NBC Connecticut reached out to the White House and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the executive order.

“At this time our international travel guidance remains the same. CDC is evaluating all guidance and orders based on the latest science and state of the pandemic, and we will communicate any updates publicly if and/or when they change,” a CDC spokesperson said.

“The fact that they reduced the mask mandate on domestic flights and yet they still keep the testing, it just doesn’t make sense. I don’t know why a flight from New York to LA doesn’t require testing, but if you’re flying from Paris to New York somehow that’s a higher risk,” said Klimak.

Agents NBC Connecticut heard from say having to quarantine is costing travelers thousands of dollars to extend their trip.

“It was a great trip, but an unhappy ending,” said Dan DeSoto of Sarasota, Florida.

A birthday and anniversary bucket list adventure to Scotland and Ireland for the DeSotos had a less than desirable ending when they got their COVID-19 tests the day before their return trip home.

“Low and behold she comes out positive. I’m negative,” said DeSoto, “So we’re like shocked because she has no symptoms.”

Two days later, DeSoto says he tested positive, and his wife tested negative, which meant extending their trip for a week to quarantine, costing $5,000 more before he could go home.

Largay Travel agents say they've seen significant others leave their loved ones abroad only to get COVID-19 when they’re back in the states or quarantine days continue to stack up in a foreign country because another family member gets sick.

“How do you reconcile that the government will allow people to drive across the border, to sail into the country, but if you want to fly into the country you have to test negative. Where is the rational reasoning behind that?,” said Largay.

Desoto is the first to tell you he doesn’t want to spread the coronavirus, but he says the rule just doesn’t seem to make sense.

“When I tested negative, I couldn't get out of the hotel fast enough.”

Travel agents we spoke to say they don’t want to discourage anyone from traveling abroad. They’re just hoping the rule gets changed.

In the meantime, they urge travelers to get travel insurance that protects them if they get sick before or during their trip.

They suggest taking a test before leaving for the trip and mid-trip so if you’re positive, you can start your quarantine then instead of the hours before your flight.

And of course, they say having an agent is a perk because they can help you rebook if necessary.  

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