No need to remove the wipers, just "park" them in the "up" position by turning them on and removing the key when they point up. Also, you only need to remove the right cowl panel, not both of them. Use a tiny screwdriver or a flat blade to pop the covers off the screw heads on the cowl (be careful as they are small and tend to get away from you!). You might need a "stubby" Philips screwdriver to get one of the screws on the windshield side of the cowl out as the hood gets in the way of a long-handled screwdriver. The "Philips-looking" clips at the front edge of the cowl do not unscrew, they just pop up. I use a needle-nose pliers to push the "screw" part up from the bottom and then just squeeze the plastic "legs" of the socket together and push them up as well for removal. Sounds complicated: it ain't! The actual cover on the cabin air filter spot takes a bit of manuervering to get out, but basically just lift the front part up and back toward the windshield and you should see how it can be wiggled out from there. Clean out that area of any debris and then make sure that you seat the air filter firmly otherwise the cover isn't so easy to get back on. Reverse the other steps and you're done. Just remember that nothing in this process takes a great amount of force to pull off or put on, and if you feel like it does you probably missed something.
I just took out a Purolator A20070 and installed a Fram CA4303. These are not air cabin specific filters but engine air filters that just happen to fit the air filter opening in earlier model Escapes. They tend to be cheaper than cabin air specific filters. There is no charcoal in them but they do a decent job keeping the pollen out of the vents... Of the 2, I preferred the Purolator. It seemed to fit a little better.
I got one from O'reilly's and it wasn't the correct shape for my '07. I had to go to the dealer to get one that fit. The odd shape and the fact it requires tape to hold it in is poor engineering if you ask me. I've never heard of any vehicle that requires tape to hold the filter in place.
Your right gman1868, that is kinda pathetic, but I had no problems with it except there is a foam seal around it that took some patience to get it fit in the compartment right, but other than that it was pretty simple, and luckily..no tape
And I would think that it is the same procedure for the 05's to 07's, but im not 100% sure