United Airlines introduces transatlantic COVID-19 rapid testing

(Photo: Aviation Image Network/Simon Gregory)

The test will be offered to all passengers and staff on select flights in a bid to revive the aviation industry

United Airlines has announced the world’s first free transatlantic Coronavirus testing pilot programme.

Tests will be offered to all passengers over the age of two for select flights from the Newark Liberty to London Heathrow. The initiative will be carried out between November 16 and December 11 and both passengers and flight crew will be required to receive a negative test before departure.

Those who do not wish to take a test will be placed on another flight to ensure the safety of everyone who received a negative result.

Toby Enqvist, chief customer officer for United, believes rapid testing is of great importance to the survival of the air travel: “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.

“United will continue to lead on testing, while at the same time exploring new solutions that contribute to the safest travel experience possible,” he added.

Booking a test before departure is mandatory and passengers are advised to do it at least three hours before catching a flight.

Feedback will be shared with both governments to determine its effectiveness. United has stated that they have seen an increase in customer load factors and revenue when there has been a testing option.

Previous to this announcement, the airline began offering passengers travelling from San Francisco Airport to Hawaii pre-flight rapid testing. The system allows travellers to bypass Hawaii’s current quarantine rules.

The trial presented positive results as there was a 95% increase in passenger traffic between October 15 and 25. The airline, therefore, believes that introducing more opportunities for rapid testing will aid the reopening of the air industry.

Pre-pandemic, United operated six daily flights between New York/Newark and London. It was also the first US airline to make masks compulsory for flight attendants and to introduce touchless check-in.