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United’s first Covid-19-free flight lands at London Heathrow

17 Nov 2020 by Tom Otley
United-Covid-free-flight

United’s first Covid-19-free flight has landed at London Heathrow this morning.

All customers travelling on flight 14 from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to London Heathrow (LHR) had taken the airline’s free transatlantic Covid-19 testing pilot program.

The airline provided complimentary rapid tests to every passenger over 2 years old and all crew members on board, free of charge so that everyone on the flight tested negative prior to departure.

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The test used was the rapid Abbott ID Now COVID-19 test administered by Premise Health from its onsite testing facility located at the Newark United Club near Gate C93.

United’s Managing Director – Operations Policy & Support, Aaron McMillan, said that there were approximately 40 to 50 passengers on the flight, and in fact one passenger had tested positive as a result of the Abbott ID Now test, showing the effectiveness of the procedures put in place by the airline.

“We see the implementation of pre-departure virus testing as a way to open up travel and replace a lot of the entry restrictions and the quarantines that exist across the globe and are looking for the continuation of the pilot through December 11 and sharing it with the UK and US government.”

The test does not provide for further testing on the passengers once they are in the UK and undergoing 14-day quarantine, though there are plans for a follow-up survey, which may include questions about whether any passengers subsequently developed Covid-19.

The test will continue to be used with passengers traveling on United Flight 14, departing at 7:15 p.m., Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for the next four weeks.

Customers booking these flights have the option to confirm their willingness to participate in the trial or be accommodated on another flight.

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How it works

Customers who opt-in to the programme receive information prior to travel in order to schedule a testing appointment at least three hours before their flight departs.

Since this is an airline-generated initiative, all customers are still subject to current U.K. entry requirements, including the 14-day quarantine rule.

“These flights are a good proof-of-concept for governments around the world that are considering making testing part of the travel experience,” said Toby Enqvist, chief customer officer for United.

“Expanding our testing efforts with pilot programs like this one not only helps guarantee passengers onboard test negative for Covid-19, it also adds another element to our layered approach to safety and demonstrates a way to work within quarantines to key international destinations.”

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United has invited governments on both sides of the Atlantic to observe the pilot program and to assess its effectiveness as an alternative to mandatory quarantines and travel restrictions.

United says it has seen a positive impact on travel demand and significant increases in customer load factors as well as revenue when testing options are available.

Before the pandemic, United operated six daily flights between New York/Newark and London Heathrow on a 767-300ER (76L). It currently operates only one on this route, though it does have flights from other U.S gateway cities into London Heathrow such as Denver, Washington Dulles, Chicago and San Francisco.

The initiative is the latest by airlines which have become frustrated with the unwillingness of governments to institute trial testing programmes on travel corridors so that the data can be used for further expansion of flights.

Asia Pacific airlines call for harmonised testing regimes by governments

Lufthansa operates first Covid-tested flight

For more information on the testing program, visit united.com/covid-testing.

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