United Offers Free COVID Tests to London Passengers in Trial

by Miles Jackson

United Airlines is taking another leadership role in trying to reopen international air travel. The airline just announced that beginning November 16th, the US-based international carrier will offer passengers free COVID-19 tests on specific flights between Newark Airport (EWR) and London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) as part of a limited-time test program. As United offers free COVID tests, will this help re-open international air travel?

Several days ago I wrote about the trials of an app — CommonPass, which is seeking to standardize format of COVID tests results and countries’ entry requirements.  United Airlines has been a partner in those efforts (along with Cathay Pacific) which have thus far been successful. However, according to United, CommonPass will not be a part of this four-week trial program.

United Offers Free COVID Tests, Saving Passengers Money

United Offers Free COVID Tests to London Passengers in Trial

United Offers Free COVID Tests to London Passengers in Trial (Image: United)

On average, COVID-19 rapid PCR tests at airports run between $100 and $300 for a single screening. United Airlines will bear the costs of these tests during the trial program. That cost is seen as a potential detriment to many people booking travel.  The pilot program runs from From November 16 through December 11.

Plans are for the rapid tests to be managed by Premise Health and only available on United’s flight 14, departing Newark at 7:15 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. United has converted one of its lounges (United Clubs) near gate C93 at Newark into an onsite airport testing facility. The airline plans to provide every passenger their results before their flight departs.

All passengers aged 2 years and older will be required to take a COVID-19 Rapid PCR test. A negative test result is required to fly the route. Even if a passenger receives confirmation of a negative test result, they will still have to comply with the United Kingdom’s mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Should a person have a positive test result, they will be isolated and not permitted to board the flight. If a person refuses the pre-flight test, they will be accommodated on an alternate flight to London. There will be no similar testing on flights from Heathrow; and the United States still maintains a ban on most flights from the UK and Europe.

United’s COVID Testing to Hawaii

United Airlines COVID Testing_001

United’s Testing Facility at SFO Airport (Image: United)

United became the first airline offer optional pre-flight COVID-19 testing for customers. Earlier this month, the airline began offering passengers traveling from San Francisco International Airport to Hawaii the option to take a same-day, pre-flight COVID PCR rapid test at the airport. Passengers also had the option to choose a conveniently located drive-through test. Passengers were charged for test, regardless of their choice of location. The program allows passengers traveling to Hawaii to bypass Hawaii’s mandatory quarantine requirements (if they tested negative.) That meant arriving passengers can enjoy their time on the islands sooner. Just make sure if you go, you still follow local laws and ordinances, as Hawaii has been issuing citations and arresting social distancing violators.

Standard COVID Pandemic Protocols Still Required

Regardless of the negative tests result for all passengers and crew, face masks will still be required to be worn on these (and all) flights.

United Hoping for ReOpening Global Travel

Airlines have been devastated by the economic impact of the global pandemic. Scientists, governments and businesses are searching for ways to restore normality to life, to the economy and certainly to travel. United believes its efforts may play a key role in fostering those changes.

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 for United

The UpShot

United Airlines CommonPass

United Airlines is Also a Partner for the CommonPass Trials

It’s no surprise that United is doing this in an effort to get governments to agree on some type of travel arrangements between countries. The New York-London route is favored by many as an initial air travel corridor. However, it seems recent surges in reported COVID cases makes that less likely in the immediate future.

It is commendable that the airline is stepping forth with some productive efforts towards restarting air travel. Together, the CommonPass program, the SFO-Hawaii COVID test arrangements and this new Newark-London initiative will provide important feedback in those efforts.

Would you be more inclined to travel if the airline provided free COVID testing?

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