United launches free Covid-19 tests for transatlantic travel

29 Oct 2020 by Hannah Brandler
United Airlines

United Airlines has announced that it will offer free rapid Covid-19 tests to customers travelling from Newark Liberty International to London Heathrow as part of a pilot initiative to reopen international travel amid the pandemic.

The pilot will run from November 16 until December 11 on the three-times-weekly flights from Newark to Heathrow, with all passengers (apart from children under the age of two) and crew members required to test negative before boarding the flight. This will ensure that everyone on board the United Flight 14 has tested negative for the coronavirus, providing passengers with another layer of assurance about the safety of air travel.

Passengers on the select flights will be required to pre-book an appointment and are advised to schedule their tests at least three hours before their flight. Those who do not wish to take part will be placed on another flight.

The rapid molecular Abbott ID Now Covid-19 test will be administered by Premise Health at the Newark United Club near Gate C63, with results available within roughly 15 minutes. Social distancing measures will be in place at the facility, and customers will be able to move about the airport freely once they receive proof of a negative test result. The airline does not currently have a testing process in London for people travelling to Newark, but has not ruled this out as a future prospect.

Despite everyone on board testing negative for Covid-19, travellers will be required to wear a mask for the entire flight duration. Passengers arriving in London will also still be subject to a 14-day quarantine as the US is not included on the travel corridor list. United has described the initiative as a “proof of concept”, designed to demonstrate the effectiveness of these programmes as an alternative to mandatory quarantines and travel restrictions.

The airline will be sharing customer feedback with the UK and US governments, and hopes that this will help to build confidence to eliminate blanket quarantine regulations and reopen the economy to international travel and commerce.

Toby Enqvist, chief customer officer for United, commented on the news:

“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 essentially 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.”

San Francisco Testing

This pilot comes after positive feedback from the airline’s testing programme launched earlier this month between San Francisco International airport and Hawaii. The programme allows customers to take a same-day pre-flight rapid test for a fee and be exempted from the state-imposed quarantine requirements in Hawaii provided that they have a negative result.

In the first ten days of the programme, United saw a nearly 95 per cent increase in passengers compared to the prior two-week period, demonstrating the “strong and pent-up demand for travel” when testing procedures are in place. Hawaii has since agreed a similar pre-travel testing programme with the Japanese government, set to launch in November.

United recently participated in a successful trial of a digital health pass between Newark and London. CommonPass allows passengers to upload their Covid-19 test result to their phone and present it to border officials at their destination. The airline added that it has been in touch with officials in the US and overseas to discuss the potential of a London-New York air bridge.

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