First Passengers Use United’s Transatlantic COVID Testing Scheme

United Airlines yesterday operated its first transatlantic flight where passengers underwent the airline’s new COVID-19 testing program. All people on the plane over the age of two received a free COVID-19 test before departure.

United Airline, Newark To London, COVID-19 tests
United Airlines has begun offering mandatory COVID-19 tests between Newark and London. Photo: Vincenzo Pace |

Across the industry, airlines and other parties in the aviation industry are looking to try and recover from their worst year on record. However, quarantine policies tied with the surge of COVID-19 cases worldwide mean that this hasn’t been as easy as hoped. As such, some hope that testing could be the solution to avoiding two-week quarantines in the future, thus helping aviation’s recovery.

United’s new program

United Airlines’ new COVID-19 testing program yesterday went live on flight 14 from New York’s Newark Airport to London’s Heathrow Airport. Onboard, every person, be they passenger or crew, had undergone a COVID-19 test before departure except for those under two years old.

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As such, the airline could guarantee that all those onboard the flight had a negative COVID-19 test before boarding. United Airlines will be operating such COVID free flights on UA14 for four weeks on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. This is similar to Lufthansa’s trial on one flight a day each way between Munich and Hamburg.

United Airline, Newark To London, COVID-19 tests
The airline is using the rapid Abbott ID Now COVID-19 test. Photo: United Airlines

If passengers traveling on the route aren’t willing to undergo the test before boarding, they are accommodated onto another flight. The airline uses the rapid Abbott ID NOW COVID-19 test, which can provide results in a short time frame before departure. United said that results take 30 minutes to provide

The airline is hoping to use the trial to nudge governments to reassess mandatory quarantines on either side of the pond. However, the passengers onboard flight 14 will still need to quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival in the UK for the foreseeable future.

Commenting on the pilot scheme, Toby Enqvist, chief customer officer for United said,

“These flights are a good proof-of-concept for governments around the world that are considering making testing part of the travel experience. Expanding our testing efforts with pilot programs like this one… demonstrates a way to work within quarantines to key international destinations.”

United Airlines, Hawaii, COVID-19 Tests
The airline is also offering COVID-19 tests for those flying from San Francisco to Hawaii. Photo: United Airlines

Not United’s only COVID-19 testing program

The COVID-19 testing program between Newark and London is not the only one United has put into place. The airline is operating a separate scheme at San Francisco Airport for those traveling to Hawaii.

The rapid tests being offered on the London route are free of charge. However, for those traveling from San Francisco to Hawaii, there is the option of a rapid on the day test for $250 or a standard test taken two to three days before for $105 each.

Do you think rapid pre-departure tests are the answer to the issue of mandatory quarantine? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!