Austrian Airlines Moving Forward With Mandatory COVID Tests

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Austrian Airlines has announced that it will be moving into the second phase of its mandatory coronavirus testing pilot program. The scheme will see it become mandatory for passengers on certain Austrian flights to produce a negative COVID-19 test.

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Austrian temporarily ceased operations in March in response to the drop in passenger demand caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Getty Images

Mandatory pre-flight testing

In a press release seen by Simple Flying, Austrian Airlines publicized the details of the second phase of its existing coronavirus testing program. The pilot scheme is being carried out on certain flights between Hamburg and Vienna. These are numbered OS171 (VIE-HAM) and OS172 (HAM-VIE). In the first testing phase, passengers on these flights have had the option to take a voluntary pre-flight COVID-19 rapid antigen test. This period will end today.

November 12th will see the second phase begin. Passengers take the test at a dedicated check-in area. They then receive their results either verbally or via SMS within 15 minutes. Their boarding pass only becomes activated if the test result comes back as negative. To date, this has only been a voluntary measure. Nonetheless, Austrian’s COO Jens Ritter states that “about 25% of the passengers volunteered” to be tested before taking the flights in question during phase one.

Austrian Airlines
Austrian will test passengers on-site in Vienna and Hamburg. Photo: Getty

As of November 12th, however, a negative pre-flight test will be mandatory for passengers on flights OS171 and OS172. This will ensure that no-one onboard is carrying (and potentially spreading) the virus, adding an extra layer of safety to the flights in question. Alitalia launched a similar scheme on its route between Rome and Milan in September. Vienna Airport Executive Board member Julian Jäger sees tests as being “a way out of the crisis,” while the aforementioned Ritter states that:

“The objective is to make quarantine obligations obsolete in the medium term on the basis of a sophisticated testing strategy.”

Terms and conditions

For passengers, an important factor in encouraging their participation in the scheme is that Austrian provides the tests free of charge. Passengers may also provide evidence of their own negative PCR test. However, this must be no more than 48 hours old. In the event of a positive test, Austrian will also offer the passenger(s) in question various means of support. Specifically, the airline states that they would “be able to rebook or cancel [their] Austrian Airlines flight at no cost” in the case of a positive test.

VIE-HAM OS171 COVID Test
The flights in question are clearly marked in the booking process. Image: Austrian Airlines

The airline also underlines the fact that the tests do not render passengers exempt from other coronavirus-based safety regulations. In addition to passengers having to wear masks onboard (apart from those aged under six or with a medical exemption), Austrian also states that:

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“At the present time, the rapid Covid-19 antigen tests do not replace the PCR tests mandated by health authorities. This means that all passengers must continue to adhere to local entry regulations.”

A difficult year

2020 has been a challenge for Austrian Airlines. Currently, over half of its fleet (44 out of 81 aircraft) are grounded, according to Planespotters.net. However, this actually represents a significant improvement on earlier in the year. On March 18th, the airline cancelled all of its flights, for an initial 10-day period. However, the increasing severity of the coronavirus crisis led to this flightless spell eventually lasting almost three months, to June 15th.

Austrian Airlines
Over half of Austrian’s fleet remains grounded. Photo: Getty Images

While the airline has since resumed operations to a limited extent, the future remains uncertain. Indeed, its CEO doesn’t expect pre-COVID demand levels to return until 2023. There has also been extensive speculation regarding the future of Austrian’s long-haul fleet. Nonetheless, its pre-flight testing trial is an admirable initiative that will hopefully end up giving passengers both more freedom and, most importantly, an increased sense of safety.

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Do you think quarantine rules should be scrapped in favor of mandatory testing for airline passengers? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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