United Airlines SFO to HNL COVID-19 Test Review

United Airlines SFO to HNL COVID-19 Test San Francisco Airport

By now you know that as of October 15 2020 Hawaii has reopened to accept tourists without forcing them into a 10-day (formerly 14-day) quarantine. 

There’s a few caveats to a quarantine-free visit however. For one, everyone in your party must arrive with a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of your arrival on the islands. Secondly, the COVID-19 test must be conducted by one of the state’s official Travel Program Partners. You can find the most up-to-date list of the approved COVID-19 testing partners here, but one testing option that has received the most attention from around the world is United Airlines’ GoHealth test at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). 

The GoHealth test at SFO is one of the best options, and as one of the very first it is also the most proven. They provide you with an approved rapid COVID-19 test result in 15-minutes, allowing you to get it done well within the 72-hour window. Better yet, the pop-up clinic’s location in SFO allows travelers from all over the world to take advantage of the option, not just mainland U.S.A. residents. All you theoretically need to do is book a flight to SFO that leaves you with a long enough layover to schedule an appointment, get the test results, and upload the appropriate PDF document before boarding a subsequent United Airlines flight to Honolulu International Airport (HNL). Sure, it’s a roundabout way to get to Oahu, but if early numbers are an indicator travelers are absolutely willing to do it.

However, there has been a LOT of uncertainty about the general process. This uncertainty has been compounded by a slew of reports about visitors arriving in Honolulu only to be stuck in quarantine even with a negative COVID-19 test in tow. This has kept thousands of aloha-starved visitors from coming to the island to enjoy paradise while supporting a local economy in desperate need. Is this concern consistent with the United Airlines GoHealth Rapid COVID-19 test at SFO? No.

You’ll be pleased to know that you can book your flight from the mainland USA, Canada, Japan, or other approved-country to SFO, get tested, receive a negative result (hopefully!) then hop on another flight to HNL without being forced into 10-days (formerly 14-days) of hell. 

How do we know this? Because this very author recently completed the process. Here’s a firsthand account of what you can expect and what you need to do. 

Note: the following article was written in November at the height of the COVID-19 surge in Hawaii. Since then restrictions may (or may not) have eased on Oahu and neighboring islands.

Everything You Need to Know About Getting the United Airlines GoHealth COVID-19 Test at San Francisco International Airport for Your Quarantine-Free Arrival at HNL

Guest Author: Marcus Maraih

Booking a Connecting Flight at SFO

Stranded on the mainland by the COVID-19 lockdowns and an unwillingness to waste 2-weeks of my life staring out the window, I followed every Governor Ige announcement through the past 6-months, waiting for the go-ahead to return to my second home of Oahu. While the testing program was dangled in front of us all through the summer of 2020 rising COVID case numbers kept pushing the date back to the point it didn’t seem like the doors to Eden would ever swing open. But the economy could take no more, and on October 15th the floodgates parted. Or did they? 

Not so fast.

The first two-weeks were ripe with misinformation. The blame lands partly on the state, and partly on travelers for not reading the fine print (view here). Thankfully I’m obsessed with fine print (the devil is in the details) and after exhausting every alternative I realized that the only viable one was to swing for the United Airlines GoHealth SFO option.

It meant that I would have to forgo my “cancelled flight” voucher with another airline, but I simply couldn’t take another day of mainland fever (no, not that one). So I booked an early morning flight to SFO, and booked a separate evening flight from SFO to HNL, leaving myself with a cozy 8-hour window to get tested.

Booking the GoHealth COVID-19 Test

Technically you can’t just walk up and get tested, although some people do get away with it. You need to schedule your appointment with GoHealth online here once you’ve booked your United flight from SFO to HNL. At press, you can schedule your appointment for testing 7-days in advance (soon to be 30-days), and you will receive an email from United exactly 7-days away from your trip as a reminder. Go on the GoHealth site immediately to book your time slot because it does book up fairly quickly. 

My flight from SFO to HNL was set to board at 6 PM, and the first available afternoon time slot was 4:05 PM. Technically that’s enough time for a Rapid 15-minute COVID test, but it’s still a little close for comfort. That’s why within minutes of my 10 AM arrival at SFO I headed straight for the GoHealth pop-up clinic at Courtyard A (ground level) in SFO’s International Terminal. I was certain that I would not be able to squeeze in early, but the GoHealth medical staff was extremely pleasant and accommodating as soon as they found out that I had scheduled an appointment. I paid my $250 fee, received some helpful information about how to upload the impending results to the Hawaii Safe Travels app and proceeded to the testing tent outside. 

Getting the Test

United Airlines SFO to HNL COVID-19 Test

Small lineup at the SFO COVID-19 Rapid Test Site registration booth

Getting the nasal swab is not as bad as many make it out to be. It was fairly unobtrusive and not all that uncomfortable. What was uncomfortable, was waiting outside to get your results. Participants sit spaced apart, waiting for the nurse to come out with their consequential piece of paper. 

The scene was somewhat tense at first, but one-by-one everyone received their conclusions – all good news – and none where dragged-off by military personnel as the movies and media would have you think. Within 15-minutes the nurse returned with my own documentation with “Negative” stamped in the appropriate box. A wave of relief followed me inside where I would begin the next part of the process, one that I had heard would be a challenge.

Uploading Results to Hawaii Safe Travel App

United Airlines SFO to HNL COVID-19 Test

Yours truly, with the golden ticket

The next important step, is to load your results to the State of Hawaii Safe Travels app. You’ll want to create your account prior to travel, which you can find here. Once registered the app walks you through the process where you will fill-out your up and coming trip information. Go as far as you can, until the app asks you upload your COVID-19 test. You can save your trip profile at this point until you have your results, which GoHealth emails to you onsite at SFO.

Follow the instructions provided via the GoHealth email and upload your negative COVID-19 result. Once confirmed a QR code (pictured in part, above) is immediately generated. Leave it up on the app and take a screenshot for good measure. This QR code is your golden ticket to Hawaii.

It’s a good idea to upload the QR code while at the SFO COVID-19 Rapid Test Site just in case you experience any technical issues. The staff is there to help if needed. Once done, head to your gate and await your flight to Honolulu International Airport. There is definitely peace of mind in knowing that everyone on your flight has (presumably) been tested.

Arriving at HNL

United Airlines SFO to HNL COVID-19 Test

After a 5 hour+ flight from SFO to HNL I disembarked and expected (as per the aforementioned media reports) chaos at the airport. There was no chaos, only aloha-greetings and easy-to-follow signs indicating the directions to follow where HNL personnel awaited to verify COVID-free arrivals. There were no lines (benefit of a 10:30 PM HST arrival) so I casually walked up to available staff. I opened the app and proudly displayed my golden ticket which happily beeped when scanned, and off I went to baggage claim which smelled of sweet plumeria.

All things considered, the process was seamless. An SFO layover and swab up the sniffer was a small price to pay to get back to the island. Whether kama’aina or a visitor coming for your first or fifteenth time on Oahu you’ll find it worthwhile too.

Just remember to book private and direct transportation from HNL to your hotel or vacation rental with Honolulu Airport Transfer. Shared shuttle services are no longer a preferred option and visitors are steering clear of ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft. The latter are not held to the same standards as longstanding and commercially licensed HNL transfer services.

Call 1.800.929.1219 to book your HNL pickup or complete the form found here. We look forward to welcoming you (with a lei greeting) back to our beautiful island!