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United Airlines has today announced that it will be launching a 4-week pilot program that will offer passengers on select transatlantic flights free rapid Covid-19 tests. This pilot is set to start up next month and, if successful, could be the beginning of a larger program to help get transatlantic travel moving again.
United’s Free Rapid Covid-19 Tests
United Airlines already offers rapid Covid testing for passengers traveling between San Francisco and Hawaii (at a cost to the passenger) and now, for a four-week period starting on 16 November, the airline will offer free rapid Covid tests to passengers on select flights traveling between Newark and London Heathrow.
The airline’s plan is to offer rapid Covid tests to crew members and every passenger over the age of 2 traveling on select flights, with any passenger who refuses to take a test being placed on an alternate flight. Effectively, United Airlines expects to be able to offer flights between Newark and London on which every passenger over the age of 2 has tested negative for Covid-19 before departure.
Toby Enqvist, chief customer officer for United, had this to say about the pilot scheme:
“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.”
“Through this pilot program, we’ll guarantee that everyone* on board has tested negative for COVID-19, adding another element to our layered approach to safety. United will continue to lead on testing, while at the same time exploring new solutions that contribute to the safest travel experience possible.”
* Indicates all customers over 2 years of age
Premise Health will administer the rapid testing pilot program for the Newark – London route with the test being given to passengers traveling on UA14, departing at 19:15 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Passengers will be required to make appointments for the test and will be advised to schedule their tests at least three hours before their flight. The on-site testing facility will be located at the Newark United Club near Gate C93.
I love this idea. Yes, I’m fully aware that Covid testing isn’t 100% reliable and that a negative test isn’t a cast-iron guarantee that someone is virus-free, but this is the best that we have right now. I have no doubt that people will feel a lot more comfortable traveling on a flight on which everyone over the age of 2 has tested negative than they would feel on a flight where no one has been tested at all.
More importantly, this could be the first step in getting governments on both sides of the Atlantic to start allowing more people to travel across the ocean and without the threat of a long quarantine period when they land.
It will be interesting to see how many people (if any) decline the free test and choose to be placed on an alternate flight, and it will be interesting to see how these people are treated on the flight the eventually take (presumably the crew will know which passengers on their flight are only there because they’ve been moved from the 19:15 flight) – if it was up to me I would prevent these people from flying altogether but I appreciate that this probably isn’t an option open to United Airlines.
Starting from 16 November and for a 4-week period, United Airlines will be offering free rapid Covid-19 tests for all passengers over the age of 2 on flight UA14 traveling between Newark and London Heathrow on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. All testing will be carried out on-site at Newark Airport at a facility located near Gate C93.