United Airlines is adding a new sort of pre-flight check to one of its routes: COVID-19 testing. All passengers (over the age of 2) on one of the company’s Newark-London flights will be required to take a test at the airport prior to departure. The test will be free of charge to travelers, with results returned before departure.
We believe the ability to provide fast, same-day COVID-19 testing will play a vital role in safely reopening travel around the world and navigating quarantines and travel restrictions, particularly to key international destinations like London.– Toby Enqvist, Chief Customer Officer
United will collaborate with Premise Health, who will administer the rapid testing pilot program for the EWR-LHR flight. The test will be given to passengers traveling on United Flight 14, departing at 7:15 p.m., Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Appointments for the test are required, and customers are advised to schedule their tests at least three hours before their flight. An on-site testing facility will be located at the Newark United Club near Gate C93.
While the negative test results do not displace current quarantine requirements for passengers arriving in the UK the airline hopes that will change eventually. Much like with its other testing-related efforts, United says it will work with authorities “to further demonstrate the effectiveness of these programs as an alternative to mandatory quarantines or duplicative travel restrictions.”
United’s efforts join those of other airlines and routes including Austrian on one Vienna-Berlin flight daily. Alitalia launched testing on some Rome-Milan flights and French Airports are ramping up to provide testing to all passengers arriving and departing; Marseilles activated that plan this week.
While the increase in testing is important it remains only a part of the overall suite of tools to address the pandemic spread. Having the test at the airport just before departure reduces the chance of infection between earlier testing and travel, but the lag between infection and detectability remains a concern. In that context the plan put forth by Calgary for a combination of testing and reduced quarantine time could be a better solution.
Still, it is critical to the industry – and to public health – for increased testing and tracing to be part of the travel experience. This is a strong step in that direction.
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