Op Ed: Mark Bresnahan On Commonsense, Absolutism And ‘Negativo’ In International Travel

Domestic corporate travel is showing a slow and steady rebound; international not so much. According to Prime Numbers Technology, its roughly 5,000 corporate accounts together booked 90 percent fewer international air tickets in April 2021 compared with April 2019. Hotel stays and car rentals for international trips were off by 93 percent and 83 percent, respectively. Prime Numbers Technology VP and GM Mark Bresnahan is among the few who kept flying to other countries during the Covid-19 crisis. His tales from the road show some of the confounding rules travelers face, but they haven’t shaken his resolve.


Those of us who continue to travel internationally throughout the pandemic learned to roll with the punches. You have to be meticulous with your planning and flexible with your expectations. Occasionally you are bested by the rules, perhaps overlooking one detail or misinterpreting ambiguous language posted on government websites. 

I am not embarrassed to say this happened to me more than once in the past year. As I spend these 14 hours in the Milan Bergamo Airport, I’ll briefly share today’s minutiae.

I flew to London several times during the last year and perhaps began to relax my senses, believing I knew exactly what was required by the U.K. government: a three-day pre-departure Covid-test, pre-booked Covid tests for day two and day eight of the stay, a test-to-release day-five Covid test and, of course, a completed Passenger Locator Form submitted 48 hours prior to departure.

Alas, after waking up at 3 a.m. for my 6:40 a.m. flight this morning, the kind folks at Ryanair were prepared to lay down the rigid sledgehammer of the British government on my sleepy-eyed head.

You see, it is not merely enough to have the proper pre-departure Covid test performed within three days; it must be documented to the same perfectly nonsensical standard of the Queen’s handbag — and certainly more orderly than Boris Johnson’s hair.

Mark Bresnahan, Prime Numbers Technology

Mark Bresnahan, Prime Numbers Technology VP & GM

“Thou shalt include thine birthdate on thy test certificate, but thou shalt not write thine birthdate thyself.” 

The pharmacy in Italy did not include my birthday on the Covid test certificate. In an age of multi-factor authentication, my passport number and name were apparently not enough to prove my connection to the document. What additional burden of proof does the birthdate meet in this scenario?

A dozen red-eyed strangers and I pleaded with the Ryanair representative to let us add the birthdate manually to the certificate. One might connect the dots and realize the pharmacist would have obtained my birthdate from the same passport document I now handed to the Ryanair employee, but our cries were repeatedly shot down with an authoritative “No.”

Sadly, this was not the only blunder of the Italian pharmacist who provided the test certificate. According to Her Majesty’s Government, every word of the document must be translated into English. As it turned out, only one word on the entire document was not written in both Italian and English — the test result itself!

“Negativo.”

Clearly, this cannot be so easily aligned with the Anglo-French derived “Negative.”

You would be right to question the role of the pharmacist or Ryanair in the absurdity of this experience, but I turn your attention to the government regulations

The pharmacist used an Italian government-approved and provided format with little ability to manipulate the report output and should be forgiven for not keeping up with every country’s evolving arrival test form standards. 

I had a similar experience traveling from Mexico to the United States with my partner, who had met me in Mexico after leaving the United Kingdom. As per U.S. entry rules, she had to be out of the United Kingdom for at least 14 days but the time elapsed during her U.K.-Mexico flight did not count. We were informed that 14 days meant 14 full calendar days on Mexican soil. So, really, 15 days.

I truly believe the airlines try to do their best. They are caught in an unrelenting scenario of survival while enabling safe travel, as governments continue to restrict travel beyond scientifically backed risk reduction and provide unclear rules for when and how travel fully reopens.

We all should stay flexible, stay informed and keep traveling. We must choose our own risk appetite, but for most, the upsides to travel exponentially outweigh any downside.


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Author: Mark Bresnahan

As strategic leader for Prime Numbers Technology, Mark helps organizations optimize their travel programs with data analytics and smart automation. Fortune 500 companies have saved millions through greater visibility and understanding of purchasing behavior with Prime Analytics. Mark is passionate about travel and advocates for employers to enable a work-from-anywhere environment for greater personal growth and a more empowered workforce. Connect with him on LinkedIn.
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