(Free?) Covid-19 Tests for Airline Passengers

By Spyros Georgilidakis | October 24, 2020

In some countries, Covid-19 tests of various types are offered to passengers at airports either for free or a reduced fee. Many feel that the key to a return in passenger numbers resembling some kind of normality, depends on instilling confidence to the public. The knowledge that fellow travellers are undergoing checks seems like a credible means of reassuring the public, not to mention satisfying authorities at different locations. Coordinating efforts between authorities is a hot topic today.



In Europe, countries are struggling to agree on a common strategy or a shared set of requirements for the travelling public. Each country takes advice from its own medical and crisis authorities, changing them daily (or worse), making any sort of coordination a rapidly moving target. Even within a given country, guidelines may vary greatly from airport to airport.

(Free?) Covid-19 Tests for Airline Passengers

Prerequisites to travel do still require some effort to unravel and airlines are trying to help, among other ways by offering tests for passengers who may need them at their destination. Austrian Airlines has began trialling such a run of offering free and voluntary antigen tests for passengers travelling from Vienna to Berlin (flight OS 229).

The airline readily admits these antigen tests are not a substitute for PCR testing. Nonetheless Julian Jäger, representing Vienna Airport, stated: “Comprehensive use of rapid antigen tests could allow passengers to travel freely”.

Interestingly, passengers who volunteer for these tests will not get their boarding passes activated until the tests turn in a negative result. The test takes only 10-15 minutes. If the result is positive, medical services will determine how to proceed, “to clarify the passenger’s condition”. If the passenger has to cancel, the airline offers free rebooking or cancellation, whichever the passenger chooses.

It should be said that this initiative comes after other free Covid testing initiatives in Germany, where departing or arriving passengers may get tested, to avoid the 14-day quarantine that is enforced if they travel to or from certain regions. Their origin or destination is a factor in determining if the test (RT-PCR) will be free or not.


United States

The fact it’s a single country (unlike the EU) should give the United States an easier time at coordinating its efforts, but its sheer size and extreme variations in population density (among other reasons) mean that they, too, have varying restrictions between areas. Again, airlines are working to help. However, authorities and airlines promote PCR and other forms of testing for Covid-19, that take longer to process. They are also more expensive than antigen tests, meaning that at this time free Covid-19 tests are not on offer to the general public.

American Airlines is looking to use preflight Covid testing as a means to restart international flights, in cooperation with airport authorities in Denver and Miami, as well as foreign governments. These plans will also affect their flights to Hawaii. This follows initiatives from many other airlines including United, Hawaiian, JetBlue and Alaska.

Hawaii is of interest to many airlines as the State has its own stringent restrictions. The airlines are cooperating with Covid testing companies that can either send home test-kits to passengers. The kits can be dropped off for processing at suitable testing centres, or passengers can head to test centres located near airports. The latter option uses faster tests, but these are more expensive than the home tests.

(Free?) Covid-19 Tests for Airline Passengers

Depending on the origin airport, the airline and the destination, home test-kits cost between 90 and 120 dollars. Quick(er) tests are significantly dearer, cost varying greatly from airline to airline.

The availability of free Covid-19 tests in some parts of the world and increasing efforts to provide more and easier testing elsewhere can be seen as a step in the right direction, among others. In any case, passengers should contact their airline for timely information before they travel, because rules and policies change quite quickly…




Kevin Hackert

Blake Guidry


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