Having previously offered them for sale before flight, the US carrier will now trial free Covid-19 tests for flights from Newark to Heathrow Airport. The airline will rebook passengers who refuse the free offer, to ensure that all passengers on board have a negative test.
We have previously discussed the moves by other airlines and airports, to offer pre-flight testing to passengers. However those weren’t free – or were antigen tests for the virus, not tests detecting active cases of the virus. Certainly, testing availability in and around airports has improved. However, actual free Covid-19 tests for the general public are still rare, for the general travelling public.
Airlines are pushing for the availability of testing en masse, believing this will inspire confidence to the travelling public. The practice also simplifies regulations for arriving travellers, who typically don’t need to go into quarantine if they arrive with a negative test.
United is already using CommonPass. This is a phone app-based program that records passenger test results anonymously and passes them to relevant authorities. The airline claims that the program is promising. However without tests for everyone on board, passengers don’t have the same level of reassurance.
Free Covid-19 Tests Versus Red Tape
Free testing, for entire flights of passengers, could become a viable alternative to complicated and often incompatible travel restrictions. They can also be far more effective than restrictions, that are often hard to enforce. Other times they can be too vague or appear to have too many exceptions.
In a statement, United Chief Customer Officer Toby Enqvist said: “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.”
Participating passengers need to schedule their free Covid-19 tests and have to do so at least three hours before the flight. This obviously adds complications to the journey. However the trial flights depart Newark at 19:15 local time, avoiding a too early wakeup for passengers.
It remains to see if other airlines will also try such tests. Airlines hope for the support of governments, to help fund these tests.