Over the course of the pandemic, we’ve seen countries respond with various approaches when it comes to passenger travel including: requiring 14-day quarantines, requiring negative coronavirus tests, or…simply not requiring either.
Well, United Airlines is set to pilot the the world’s first free transatlantic COVID-19 test in the next couple of weeks. Let’s look at the details…
NEWARK TO LONDON
United Airlines announced they will be introducing free (and mandatory) coronavirus testing for all passengers and crew – 2 years of age and above – on the Newark (EWR) to London (LHR) flight.
The testing trial period will begin 16 November and continue through 11 December 2020 for flight UA14 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
Anyone that does not wish to be tested will be rebooked on another flight. Recognizing this flight is (currently) the only daily flight between Newark and London means you’ll be rebooked, at a minimum, for a flight 24 hours later.
THE FINER DETAILS
According to the announcement, United is collaborating with Premise Health who will be administering the rapid testing, appointments are required, and customers are encouraged to schedule the appointments at least three hours before departure.
MY QUICK THOUGHTS
Personally, I think this is a great idea. Passengers want fast testing, and making it “complimentary” makes it attractive to individuals that are more price sensitive…at least in theory. But I see some immediate challenges.
For example, we’ve seen many destinations eliminate the 14-day quarantine requirement if passengers tested negative for coronavirus pre-departure.
Well, at the moment, the UK is still requiring a 14-day quarantine whether you have been tested or not, and I presume this will remain active even when this trial begins in 10 days.
If a passenger is not booking a ticket to the UK because they (understandably) don’t want to spend 14 days in quarantine, the free test does nothing to address the issue, so what’s the point?
Additionally, there have been reports that rapid testing has produced inaccuracies. In other words, the test result was wrong, and incorrectly indicated COVID-19 was absent when the passenger in fact was positive or vice versa. Either result could create a major headache while standing, literally, at your boarding gate (…or worse when you arrive at your destination and find out that you do have it).
Finally, I can’t help but think that thousands of passengers arriving at the airport 3+ hours ahead of their flight – and thus sitting in an enclosed area for 3+ hours – is not a good idea.
There have been several reports that airplanes are “extremely safe” because of hospital-grade HEPA filters, electrostatic spraying, frequency of cleaning, etc. But as far as I am aware, we haven’t seen those same reports about airports. In fact, just focusing on coronavirus rates in TSA agents alone could give passengers pause, so does this trial make passengers feel more at ease?
United Airlines will be introducing free (and mandatory) coronavirus testing for all passengers and crew on the Newark (EWR) to London (LHR) flight between early November and early December.
It’s great to see an airline take proactive steps to address an issue that directly affects their business however, it remains to be seen if it makes customers feel better about booking a ticket.
What do you think about this idea? Does it put you more at ease? Would you purchase a ticket now that a test is available?
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