Emirates Ditches Pre-Flight Blood Tests After Accuracy Concerns

After being the first airline to perform rapid COVID-19 testing on its passengers, Emirates decided yesterday to cease any further tests from taking place. The move comes after the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) deemed these tests to be mostly inaccurate. Emirates first utilized the pre-flight blood tests on passengers flying to Tunisia on April 15th, and again this month for repatriation flights to India.

The Dubai-based carrier ditched antibody testing after found to be unreliable. Photo: Emirates

According to The National, a Spanish study has revealed that the blood tests are only 30% accurate, as opposed to the previously reported 80%. Thus, the Dubai Health Authority has moved forward in putting an end to these quick tests. The DHA is banning all health providers from using these test kits.

As for now, the sole method used for coronavirus testing will be the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. Commonly known as the nasal swab, the proven PCR test can determine if an individual has the virus.

Rapid COVID-19 blood tests

These rapid tests only required a finger-prick before producing results 10 minutes later. Emirates passengers could only board their flight after clearing the blood test at a group check-in area.

The Dubai Health Authority prepared testing stations at Dubai International Airport. Photo: Emirates

However, the Spanish study found that these tests did not signify if individuals were presently carrying the virus – but if they had it previously and thus built up antibodies.

Initially, the Dubai-based airline used these tests as a gateway to start performing tests on all its passengers, ensuring a safe environment for travelers. As Adel Al Redha, Emirates Chief Operating Officer said in a statement in April,

We are working on plans to scale up testing capabilities in the future and extend it to other flights, this will enable us to conduct on-site tests and provide immediate confirmation for Emirates passengers traveling to countries that require COVID-19 test certificates.”

Currently, Emirates is planning to shelve the test requirements as the carrier resumes scheduled flights to nine destinations beginning May 21st.

Enhanced safety measures remain

All other safety measures started in April remain. Passengers and crew will continue to have their temperatures screened before boarding. Masks and gloves remain compulsory at the airport for both customers and employees.

Mandatory for cabin crew to wear personal protective equipment over their uniforms. Photo: Emirates

All cabin crew, boarding agents, and ground staff must don personal protective equipment (PPE) together with their masks and gloves. In-flight services are still limited to bento-style food, with cuts to complimentary WiFi and live TV.

Airlines conducting COVID-19 tests

Although these rapid blood tests are allegedly inaccurate, the Spanish airline, Iberia, has recently jumped on the bandwagon.

On May 6th, the national carrier started using these antibody tests to monitor its employees’ health. Employees will be voluntarily tested to see if they have previously contracted the virus and has now recovered. If they return from sick leave, employees will receive a PCR test instead.

Iberia has started offering voluntary antibody testing for employees. Photo: Thomas Boon / Simple Flying

While a kind gesture in terms of Iberia’s employee welfare, The National stated that some antibody tests provide “an unacceptably high false positivity rate.” The false-positive may mislead individuals into thinking they have contracted the virus and are now immune.

Seeing as results for PCR testing take hours, it proves to be logistically impossible for airlines. On the other hand, airports who have come on board to conduct PCR tests on all arriving passengers seem to be our best bet in curbing the spread of the virus amongst travelers.

More accurate tests

It is not over for antibody testing, as kits are improving day by day. Recently, the UK has also seen the production of a new testing kit that Public Health England claims to be effective.

Dubbed the Roche-Sars-CoV-2, the new serology test “recorded a specificity of 100% in tests”, according to the program’s national coordinator, John Newton, in The National.

What do you think about antibody testing? Was it a good move by Emirates to discontinue the tests? Let us know in the comments section.