How Travel Advisors Responded to Adversity on a Recent Fam Trip

What happens when an international air traveler cannot quickly and easily clarify information regarding the latest COVID requirements?

For one of my TASK Ambassadors, a two-hour wait in the Emirates airline queue resulted in an additional – and totally unnecessary – travel expense of $2,000.

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Like all TASK Ambassadors, Toni Anderson of Cruises By Toni has had years of extensive training as a travel agent. She, along with all the TASK Ambassadors in our group, researched the COVID testing/vaccination requirements for travel to Egypt and the UAE before we left.

The information she found was inconsistent to say the least. Although the pandemic continues to impact international travel, it is absolutely unacceptable that passenger information on government and airline websites does not match the information that airlines request moments before the departure.

This isn’t the first time I’ve hosted a TASK FAM trip since the pandemic began. These TASK FAM trips focus on local experiences that educate our TASK agents about the culture, history and people of a place. I avoid commercialized sights and activities, and instead immerse them in local life so they can sell the experience – not the destination – to their customers.

Our stay in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates was simply amazing. From the armed security guards who escorted us through Egypt to the unparalleled Arabian hospitality of the tourism services and locals, we felt safe, welcome and comfortable every moment of our journey.

Which is why it’s all the more disappointing that this unforgettable experience began on an expensive, confusing, and deeply embarrassing note for Toni. The lack of clarity and disparity of information almost prevented her from boarding her flight – and all travelers planning to travel abroad should learn from her eye-opening experience.

Tammy Levent and Katie Levent on a recent TASK trip
Tammy Levent and Katie Levent on a recent TASK trip to Dubai. (photo via Tammy Levent)

Toni Anderson’s story: “My experience with Emirates”

“While checking in at the Emirates counter, I was told that I must have a QR code on my vaccination card to travel to Egypt. I went through the Egypt travel requirements which stated that travelers fully vaccinated only had to show a vaccination card.I tried to verify this information with the tour operator’s requirements, but since there were inconsistencies, I decided to check directly with the airline agents.

The Emirates counter agent said that since I did not have a QR code on my vaccination card, I could travel if I presented a negative PCR QR code with my passport information. I asked to speak to a supervisor. She said I needed a negative PCR test with QR code with my passport information accessible through the QR code. She then referred me to a nearby business who charged $250.00 for a PCR test with results available within the hour.

Not once did she mention that I could get a QR code for my vaccination card online. She also failed to mention that not all testing locations can issue QR codes for travel, which is why I recommend that all travelers call and confirm with a testing location near their airport before their flight. This only underlines the confusion I felt when I tried to check the information before my flight. The information is inconsistent from one site to another: for example, one official site stated that I needed a PCR test 72 hours before arriving in the country, while another official site stated that The travellers
need a PCR test 72 hours before departure.

Due to works at the airport, it was not possible for me to make the round trip in less than an hour. I had to cancel my flight and rebook for the next day. My original ticket was around $1015. To rebook my ticket for the next day, it was about $1775: a difference of $760 that I shouldn’t have paid. I arrived at the airport three hours before my flight, waited two hours to speak to an agent and was turned away – instead of immediately securing a seat on another flight, I was punished for checking that I was following the rules.

I went online and found a company that could provide me with a QR code (gogetdoc.com). I entered my vaccination information and printed a QR code in five minutes. As a travel professional it made no sense. If airlines informed travelers of this option when making reservations, all passengers could get the QR code within five minutes of booking their flight.

In my opinion, it was as if the Emirates airline or the supervisor themselves were to receive a bribe from the company the supervisor referred me to. Otherwise, why would I pay $250 for a test when I could easily pay $5.00 for a QR code for my vaccination card?

The experience left me in shock, especially when I checked in with the same Emirates employee for my rescheduled flight the next day. I gave them the printed QR code I got online. They didn’t even scan the code to see if it was valid. Upon arrival in Egypt, no one asked for the QR code; only my passport and my vaccination card.

It’s no surprise that the inconsistency of airline COVID rules is one of the main reasons why travelers are hesitant to travel abroad. In my view, there needs to be consistency across the board: airlines and the countries they serve should share the same COVID testing/vaccination requirements.

Group photo in Egypt with hot air balloons
Band shot in Egypt with hot air balloons. (photo via Tammy Levent)

My advice for all travelers

Another TASK ambassador had a similar experience with United Airlines. What frustrates me the most is that this whole situation was completely avoidable. Obtaining a verified vaccine passport with a QR code is absolutely free. Within minutes anyone can download VaxYes via gogetdoc.com. Once our group learned of Toni’s issues, we all uploaded our vaccine information to the site and downloaded the vaccination card with the necessary QR code.

The most outrageous part is that the airport staff did not check our PCR test results or scan the QR code. Visual confirmation of the vaccination card with a QR code was apparently appropriate for departure, although we did see officers randomly checking PCR test results when we reached the US customs checkpoint.

I urge all travelers to download the VaxYes Verified Vaccine Passport with a QR code as soon as they book international travel. The process was quick and free (although you can make an optional $5 donation like I did). You should not rely on airlines accepting Walgreens/CVS QR codes, even if you find information confirming acceptance online.

And don’t stop your diligence there. Arrive at the airport four hours early to check with airline agents that your QR code and card are accepted – skip the line if you need to.

I will lead another group of TASK Ambassadors to Greece in October. Not only will I advise the group to upload their verified vaccine passport, but I will also insist that they enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program so they can seek assistance at foreign US embassies. they encounter similar situations abroad.


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