Last week, before returning to Vermont from California, Bari and Peter Dreissigacker scheduled coronavirus tests for seven days after their November 17 flight home. All Vermonters returning from out-of-state trips must complete either a 14-day quarantine or a seven-day quarantine followed by a negative COVID-19 test.
But upon their arrival at Burlington International Airport Tuesday evening, Bari Dreissigacker said, she was “astonished” to find that no one was greeting arriving passengers at the gate to inform them of the travel restrictions, nor did she notice flyers or signage to that effect. She had even printed the paperwork about the couple’s COVID test scheduled for November 24, expecting that someone in the airport would ask for it. No one did.
“There was no information in the airport [about the quarantine]. Zero,” Dreissigacker said. “Isn’t that surprising?” The only sign she noticed that referred to the mandate was a flashing highway sign as they drove off the airport grounds. That sign reads, “If you enter Vermont to stay / self-isolate 14 days.”
Dreissigacker, 70, said that that apparent dearth of information wasn’t reflective of her out-of-state travel experiences up to that point. The Stowe couple, who’d flown to the Bay Area 10 days earlier to visit their daughter and grandchild, had both received texts from United Airlines in the days leading up to their return flight home, advising them to check Vermont’s travel guidelines.
On their connecting flight from Chicago to Burlington, she added, everyone onboard wore masks. That said, she was surprised to learn that a young man traveling from Central America said that he was planning to hike Vermont’s Long Trail immediately upon his arrival, which apparently would violate the policy.
“How many people have flown into Vermont without [receiving] the mandatory quarantine information?” Dreissigacker asked.
But Gene Richards, director of aviation at BTV, pushed back on the suggestion that the airport isn’t adequately conveying information to travelers about the state quarantine requirement.
“She’s not accurate at all,” Richards said. “I don’t know how she missed it. Right from day one, every screen at the airport has had [that information] on it. It doesn’t get any more in your face.”
As Richards pointed out, there are numerous spots throughout the airport where travelers are advised of the policy. They include six electronic billboards, including three in the baggage claim area, which display state-provided language about the governor's executive order.
Additionally, he noted, before every arriving passenger exits the restricted security area, they must first pass through a thermal scanner, which measures their body temperature. If a traveler has a fever, an alarm will sound and an airport employee will provide them with additional information from the Vermont Department of Health.
But when a reporter visited the airport one evening this week, it wasn’t hard to see how a traveler might miss any reference to the state guidelines.
Although the electronic billboards display messages about when and how to quarantine, those messages are interspersed with conventional advertising. And, because the Dreissigackers didn’t check their luggage, they didn’t pass through the baggage claim area but walked directly back to their car.
Along that route, there is signage on the sliding glass doors about Vermont’s indoor mask mandate, as well as free mask stations posted throughout the concourse. However, signage about the mandatory 14-day isolation period is more difficult to spot. There is none, for example in the restrooms, elevators, pedestrian walkways or parking lot stairwells.
Also, the airport's car rental agents aren’t required to inform travelers of the policy, and three employees interviewed said they normally don’t mention it to customers unless they’re asked about it. The same was true of cab drivers waiting for fares. The City of Burlington's airport information counter, which wasn’t staffed in the evening, offered free masks and other city travel information, but no flyers or signage about the governor's quarantine mandate or how to abide by it.
When asked if the airport plans to add more messaging, Richards explained that this week BTV requested copies of the COVID-related handouts that Vermont state troopers already distribute to out-of-state travelers whenever they make traffic stops. Richards said those flyers should be available in brochure racks at every gate starting this week — assuming, that is, a disembarking passenger chooses to take one.
“I’m sorry she missed [the signs], but that’s the first complaint I’ve had about it,” Richards added. “At some point we’re going to overstimulate people with signage, to the point where they don’t look at any of it … Certainly, we can do more, but I don’t know how good it would be.”