Reports of the trip from Houston to Cancun on United Airlines went viral Thursday, earning Cruz nonstop scorn from Democratic lawmakers and other critics, including United flight attendants stuck without power in Houston. Cruz confirmed the trip in a statement, saying it was a last-minute trip with his daughters.
“With school cancelled for the week, our girls asked to take a trip with friends. Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon,” Cruz said.
The Republican told reporters later Thursday he began second-guessing the trip the moment he first got on the plane Wednesday. “It was obviously a mistake, and in hindsight, I wouldn’t have done it,” he said.
It’s not the first time the senator has gone viral for his travels during the pandemic. Last summer, social media users called him out for not wearing a mask on an American Airlines flight.
But it isn’t just about politics. Eagle-eyed travelers have so many questions – and so much snark – about the Mexico flights.
The biggest unknowns:
1. Did Cruz get a negative COVID test in Cancun so he could board his flight back to Houston? All travelers on international flights to the United States, including U.S. citizens, must now show a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than three days before departure or prove they have recovered from the virus in the past three months, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order that went into effect on Jan. 26. Travelers who have been vaccinated are not exempt from the rule. Many hotels in Mexico have added rapid testing to give travelers confidence to book trips, and there’s testing available at Cancun International Airport, though officials say it should be used as a “last resort.”
COVID-19 tests aren’t required to board flights from the U.S. to Mexico, but if Cruz took a test shortly before his Wednesday flight, as recommended by the CDC for people choosing to travel during the pandemic, he would still be covered by those results.
With road conditions dangerous and power knocked out in Texas, though, many social media users asked where Cruz could have obtained a last-minute COVID-19 test if he did so ahead of the trip.
Cruz told reporters late Thursday that he took a test in Mexico that day.
“I couldn’t take a morning flight because the current restrictions require a COVID test. So I had to get a COVID test this morning before I could get on a flight back, so I took the first flight I could get after getting a COVID test and testing negative.”
2. Why do photos show Cruz toting a large carry-on bag if he was just going overnight?
The statement from Cruz mentioning his Thursday return suggests that was his plan all along. Late Thursday, Cruz told reporters that he returned to the U.S. because he realized he needed to be in Texas. He said he had originally been scheduled to stay in Mexico through the weekend.
Before Cruz admitted he was planning a longer stay, Twitter users questioned the size of his carry-on bag, shown in social media photos on the flight to Houston and a Reuters photo taken at the Cancun airport Thursday.
3. How’d he get such a large carry-on bag on United? The black bag Cruz toted to Mexico appears to be overstuffed and likely wouldn’t fit into one of those bag sizers at the gate or escape the prying eyes of employees overseeing boarding with bag tags in hand ready to gate check them.
4. Why was a U.S. senator stuck in economy class on the flight to Cancun?
Photos on social media show Cruz traveling with his family in economy class. Cruz was listed for an upgrade to business class, but his upgrade didn’t clear, according to reports based on United’s public list of passengers waiting for upgrades or standby travel.
That’s not unusual for frequent flyers with status on an airline, especially in business-traveler rich hubs like Houston and on flights to popular destinations.
5. Will Cruz have to quarantine now that he’s back in Texas?
The CDC recommends quarantine after travel, but it is not a requirement. And Texas does not have any restrictions for returning travelers, as some states do. Cruz’s office did not immediately say whether the senator would self-quarantine.
Contributing: Associated Press