United Airlines to offer free COVID testing for passengers on select routes

In what could be a glimpse into the future of pandemic air travel, United Airlines will begin offering free coronavirus tests to passengers on select routes. United hopes the move will not only increase traffic on mostly empty transatlantic flights, but also spark international cooperation to break down travel restrictions.

“We firmly believe that testing is a key component of a multi-layered approach to safely opening travel across the globe,” United’s managing director of operations policy and support Aaron McMillan told reporters in a briefing call. “The pilot program will guarantee that essentially everyone on board just tested negative for Covid-19.”

The four-week trial run begins November 16 on United Flight 14, which departs for London Heathrow from Newark Liberty International Airport three times each week. United says passengers must arrive at least three hours before the 7:15 pm flight to receive a required rapid molecular Abbott ID Now test which United says produces results within 20 minutes. United says those who test negative for coronavirus will be allowed to board the flight. Those who test positive will be isolated by clinicians and either refunded or rebooked at a later time.

“It would be a requirement for everyone on board to have that negative test result prior to flight,” said McMillan.

Although the move does not allow travelers arriving in the United Kingdom to bypass its mandatory 14-day quarantine, United hopes the trial will serve as a proof of concept.

“United will share customer feedback of this pilot with governments on both sides of the Atlantic to further demonstrate the effectiveness of these programs as an alternative to mandatory quarantines or duplicative travel restrictions,” said a company news release.

Last week, airline industry groups sent a letter to the Trump Administration pleading for the federal government to standardize pre-departure virus screening and contact tracing to ease restrictions that are “decimating our industry.”

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