How Travel Consultants responded to adversity during a recent FAM trip

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

For one TASK ambassador, a two-hour wait in an Emirates queue resulted in an additional – and completely unnecessary – travel cost of $2,000.

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

The information I found was inconsistent, to say the least. Although the pandemic will continue to affect international travel, it is not entirely acceptable that passenger information listed on government and airline websites does not match the information that airlines request moments before departure.

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

Our time in both Egypt and UAE was amazing. From the armed security guards escorting us through Egypt to the unparalleled Arab hospitality of the tourism departments and locals alike, we felt safe, welcome and comfortable during every moment of our trip.

Which is why it’s even more frustrating that this unforgettable experience started out so expensive, confusing, and so uncomfortable for Tony. A lack of clarity and uneven information nearly kept her from boarding her flight – and all travelers planning to travel internationally should learn from her eye-opening experience.

Tami Levent and Katie Levent on TASK's Last Trip
Tami Levent and Katie Levent on their last TASK trip in Dubai. (Image via Tami Levent)

Toni Anderson’s Story: My Emirates Experience

“When checking in at the Emirates counter, I was told that I need to have a QR code on my vaccination card to travel to Egypt. I checked the travel requirements to Egypt which stated that only fully vaccinated passengers need to show the vaccination card. I tried to check From this information by the requirements of the tour operator, but due to discrepancies, I decided to check directly with the airline’s agents.

The Emirates desk agent said that since there is no QR code on my vaccination card, I can travel if I provide the negative PCR QR code with my passport information. I asked to speak to the supervisor. She said I need a negative PCR test using the QR code with access to my passport information via the QR code. Then she redirected me to a nearby company that paid $250.00 for a PCR test with results available within an hour.

You did not once mention that I can get the QR code for my vaccination card online. I also failed to point out that not all test sites can issue QR codes for travel, which is why I recommend all travelers to call and confirm with a test site near their airport before their flight. This only highlights the confusion I felt when I tried to check the information prior to my flight. Information is inconsistent from one site to another: for example, one official site said I need a PCR test 72 hours before arriving in the country while another official site said that travelers
Need a PCR test 72 hours before departure.

Due to the construction work at the airport, it was not possible for me to get there and back in an hour. I had to cancel my flight and rebook for the next day. My original ticket was around $1015. To rebook my ticket the next day, it was roughly $1,775: a difference of $760 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 for me 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 out a QR code within five minutes. As a travel professional, this just didn’t make sense. If airlines inform travelers of this option when making their reservations, all passengers can obtain a QR code within five minutes of booking their flight.

In my opinion, I felt that Emirates or the supervisor himself should take 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?

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

Not surprisingly, the inconsistency in airlines’ COVID rules is one of the main reasons travelers are reluctant to travel internationally. In my opinion, there should be consistency across the board: Airlines and the countries they serve should share the same COVID testing/vaccination requirements.”

group shot in egypt hot air balloons
Set shot in Egypt hot air balloons. (Image via Tami Levent)

My advice to all travelers

Another TASK ambassador had a similar experience with United Airlines. What frustrates me the most is that this whole situation could have been completely avoided. Obtaining a validated vaccine passport with a QR code is absolutely free. Within minutes, anyone can download VaxYes via gogetdoc.com. As soon as our group learned about Tony’s issues, we all uploaded our vaccine information to the site and downloaded the vaccination card with the necessary QR code.

The most terrible part is that the airport staff did not check the results of the PCR test and did not scan the QR code. Visual confirmation of a vaccination card with a QR code was apparently convenient for departure, although we saw agents randomly checking PCR test results when we arrived at the US customs checkpoint.

I urge all travelers to download a VaxYes Verified Vaccine Passport with QR Code once they have booked for international travel. The process was quick and free (although you can donate an optional $5 like I did). You should not rely on airlines that accept Walgreens/CVS QR codes, even if you find information confirming acceptance online.

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

I will be leading another group of TASK Ambassadors to Greece in October. Not only would I advise the group to download a verified vaccine passport, but I would also insist that they enroll in the Smart Traveler Registration Program so that they can seek assistance at foreign US embassies if they encounter similar situations while abroad.

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