El Al To Start Testing Passengers For COVID-19 In Flight

Israeli flag carrier El Al will begin offering pre-departure and inflight COVID-19 testing from today for passengers on flights departing New York’s John F Kennedy Airport. The outcome should be a smoother arrivals process in Tel Aviv.

El Al will be testing passengers for COVID-19 on services out of JFK from today. Photo: Boeing

A plan to smooth the arrivals process in Israel

Israel’s borders remain closed to most travelers. Those permitted to enter must take a PCR test within 72 hours of leaving for Israel. This applies to everyone, including fully vaccinated travelers. After landing, Israel requires passengers to take another test before leaving Ben Gurion Airport.

Now passengers on any of El Al’s Boeing 787-9 flights out of JFK can bypass the on arrival test. But that small win is wiped up by a new Israeli edict requiring a mandatory fourteen-day isolation spell for all arrivals from the United States.

El Al has teamed up with XpresSpa to start the pilot COVID-19 testing program at JFK Airport on Thursday, August 5. A health and wellness business, XpresSpa already offers COVID-19 screening across 11 airports in the United States. They’ve been busy running COVID-19 tests at New York’s two biggest airports since last year.

In this trial, XpresSpa is collaborating with El Al and Israel’s Health Ministry to provide the on-arrival test from swabs taken in New York. According to a Reuters report, those swabs will be taken either at JFK’s terminal or after boarding the plane.

The inflight COVID-19 testing is a pilot trial and initially restricted to flights from JFK. Photo: Boeing

In a first, El Al passengers can get tested for COVID-19 inflight

While not made explicitly clear, it appears XpresSpa personal will board the flight to Israel with the test swabs already gathered. XpresSpa personal will continue testing passengers inflight. By the time the plane lands in Israel, XpresSpa will hand over to Israeli health authorities test swabs for every passenger onboard. This test will substitute for the on-arrival test in Ben Gurion. It does not substitute for the initial COVID-19 PCR test taken up to 72 hours before traveling.

“We strive to do our best to make the passenger process easier for our customers, especially during this time,” said EL AL CEO Avigal Soreq.

“We are all aware that the virus is here to remain in one form or another, so we adopted a different approach, a ‘life alongside the coronavirus’ approach.”

Travelers sit for the COVID-19 test at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport. Photo: Getty Images

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Israel red lists the United States

On Tuesday, the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee decided to put the United States (along with France, Italy, Germany, Greece, and 13 other countries) on its red list. They join several countries already red-listed that  Israel would prefer you didn’t fly in from.

Designated “highest risk,” Israel requires all travelers from these countries (Israeli citizens or not) to enter isolation for 14 days. Smart operators can shorten this by having two post-arrival COVID-19 tests. If the second test, taken on the seventh day of isolation, comes back negative, the isolation period ends.

The United States was set to be added to the red list on Friday, August 6. According to a report in The Jerusalem Post, that is now pushed back to Wednesday, August 11.

” We look forward to collaborating with El Al Israel Airlines in our mutual efforts to provide flyers with more accessible testing options to meet destination entry requirements and improve variant tracking,” said Doug Satzman, XpresSpa CEO.

“Our approach will help streamline necessary COVID-19 tests while still maintaining safety and rigor throughout the process. Once the pilot program proves successful, we look to expand the El Al relationship to other US originating flights to Israel.”