Even the most meticulously organized vacation can be derailed by a positive Covid test.
Travelers may face unexpected quarantines — either in hotels or state-owned facilities — or substandard medical services. Others may be denied the ability to take commercial flights or, if negative tests are required to return, to get home at all.
Travel insurance can help defray quarantine and medical costs incurred abroad. But for those who want to fly home fast, that isn't good enough.
How to fly home after testing positive
Launched in the spring of 2020, Covac Global transports people home if they have been diagnosed with Covid while traveling domestically or abroad.
The team behind the company also operates a crisis response firm called HRI, which conducts security risk and "traditional medical" evacuations, said CEO Ross Thompson.
"No other solution on the market would transport you or cover a pandemic or contagious disease," he said. "Now a few do, but they all either have geographic restrictions and require you to be hospitalized or that it is medically necessary for you to be evacuated."
Evacuations are triggered when a traveler tests positive for Covid and exhibits at least one symptom of the disease, which can be self-reported, said Thompson. Hospitalizations aren't required.
Covac Global returns travelers to their homes or to a local hospital — not the closest port of entry — and arranges flight doctors and land and air ambulances, too.
"Going to the Covid-19 ward in a foreign hospital is a bad idea, both medically and psychologically," he said. "The goal of Covac Global is to get our members home at the first sign of infection."
The key? Travelers have to sign up before they leave home.
Memberships are available to residents of the United States and Canada but will open to all nationalities starting in May, said Thompson. Rates start at $675 for 15 days of coverage, which can be used over the course of 12 months, and benefits begin two weeks after signing up.
"We are currently doing an evacuation of a family from Ethiopia back to the U.S.," he said. "Last week we evacuated a family from the Maldives back to New York — we picked them up via speedboat from their overwater villa, and transferred them right to a waiting private air ambulance."
Private medical evacuation for Covid is expensive, said Thompson, adding that transports can cost upwards of $200,000.
While there are no restrictions on travel destinations, memberships don't cover travelers on cruise ships or who attend large-scale events.
What about CDC test requirements?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention require air passengers to present a negative Covid test (or proof of recovery) before entering the United States.
"Extremely limited" exemptions are allowed for emergency travel, according to the CDC's website.
Covac Global's services fit this exception, said Thompson, adding that the company has never been precluded from bringing a member home. Medical travel must be via certified air ambulance, under the care and recommendation of a physician, and detailed paperwork must be filed with the CDC, U.S. Department of State and Department of Homeland Security.
"This is the only way a positive Covid-19 patient can enter the U.S.," said Thompson. "We have had many people call up if a charter or even their own aircraft will be able to bring them home, and the answer is no."
The Tryall Club in Jamaica partnered with Covac Global to ensure guests had "every option" available to them while on vacation, said Arla Vernon Gordon, a director at the all-villa resort.
Since February, nearly 40 guests have enrolled in the program but to date "no guest has had to use the service," she said.
A cheaper option for travelers who get really ill
A positive Covid test won't kick in assistance from travel risk management company Global Rescue, but a hospitalization will.
The company evacuates travelers who require hospitalization — for Covid infections or otherwise — and are more than 100 miles from home. Memberships are available to anyone, regardless of their country of citizenship.
Evacuations are to hospitals (not homes) in members' home countries, and there are no Covid-related exclusions, such as vacationing on cruise ships, said Global Rescue's CEO Dan Richards.
Short-term memberships start at $119 for individuals and $199 for families (which includes a spouse and up to six dependents).
"Global Rescue has signed up more clients and partners since the onset of the pandemic than in the company's entire 16-year history," he said.
Logistics involving Covid evacuations can "get tricky," said Richards, adding that Global Rescue has evacuated Covid cases from remote regions, including a severe case from Guam to the United States.
For travelers in North and Central America
Medical transport company Medjet transports its members to a hospital near home, if they are hospitalized 150 miles or more from their primary residence.
Memberships are available to residents of the U.S., Canada and Mexico and cover worldwide repatriation. However, Covid-related assistance applies for travel within the contiguous United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, Bermuda and the Caribbean, said Medjet's CEO Mike Hallman.
The company added Covid-related services in October of 2020, he said.
"Unlike travel insurance, we have no specific exclusions like adventure travel, motorcycles, paragliding … so cruises are not excluded either," Hallman told CNBC.
"We were also able to get a member home from Australia early on in the pandemic, during the global level 4 travel shutdown," he said. "That had a lot of complications, but we worked it out and got them back."
Memberships start around $99 for eight days of international and domestic travel coverage. People often buy memberships for "big international trips" and don't think about them for domestic travel, said Hallman.
"It can be just as difficult to be stuck in a hospital five states away as it is to be stuck in one halfway around the world," said Hallman.
Around half of yearly transports take place after travelers have returned from a "big trip safely and then had an accident or health episode while traveling domestically," he said.