Over the weekend, a couple that flew from San Francisco International Airport to their Hawaiian home knowingly infected with COVID-19 was arrested at the airport in Kauai.
Officials in Kauai were tipped off by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after the couple defied orders to stay in an airport quarantine station and boarded a plane anyways, as first reported by local TV station KHON2. The case is a first of its kind.
Though Hawaii and the airlines want you to travel there, they want to avoid both the spread of the virus and the liability it must bring. Hawaii is an American tropical Paradise that is accessible, but only if you follow the very strict rules in the air and on the islands.
Airlines are not responsible for things that are not reasonably within their direct control. COVID is something far different from things such as a crash where the airline is liable.
"One would be the assumption of the risk, passengers know they're getting confined space during this pandemic. So, they assume there's a risk that they could catch COVID," said aviation consumer attorney Jim Brauchle of the Motley-Rice law firm. That is strictly because airlines are not legally required to test passengers for COVID.
But once on board, airlines can mandate such things as mask wearing, which they must then reasonably enforce.
"Only again, because the airline is not going to know if someone has COVID," said Brauchle.
In the unlikely event the airline knew and chose to board a positive passenger anyway is different. Failure to properly maintain sterilization, sanitation and airflow might cause liability if passengers can prove it was the cause, time and place of their infection.
"Potentially, you could see something down the road when the airlines could get some type of liability finding," said Brauchle.
Before you leave, each person in your party had better have created an online Hawaii Safe Travel account, answer health and contact questions and upload negative test results from an authorized mainland testing site administered no more than 72 hours before the flight. This will avoid the otherwise 14 day required quarantine and speed you out of the airport.
If you have no test you must go into quarantine or you can immediately turn around.
"They can fly straight back on the next flight from wherever they came from, or if they refuse both of those, they're going to be sent over to law enforcement and be arrested,” Tim Sakahara of the Hawaii Department of Transportation said. “Hundreds of people have already been sent back, flown back.
Bottom line, know way before you go.
This story was reported from Oakland.