US airline launches first COVID-19 testing program of its kind
United is offering tests to some Hawaii-bound passengers.
September 24, 2020, 2:51 PM
• 5 min read
United Airlines will be the first airline to offer COVID-19 tests to some of its passengers as the industry urges governments to agree on an international testing protocol as a way to safely reopen travel routes that have been cut amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Passengers traveling from San Francisco International (SFO) to Hawaii will be tested and allowed to bypass quarantine restrictions upon arrival. Testing will be available starting Oct. 15, and passengers will have the option of taking a rapid test at SFO or a self-collected mail-in-test before departure.
Those who opt to take the rapid test for $250 would get swabbed before going through security on the day of their flight from SFO, a United spokesperson explained. The airline says the test provides results in approximately 15 minutes. If a customer gets a positive result they won’t be allowed to travel or enter the terminal.
The mail-in test sample requires a bit more planning — passengers have to order the kit 10 days prior to departure and send in a sample within 72 hours of their trip. But it is considerably cheaper, costing around $80.
After passengers land, Hawaii officials will verify their results and waive the requirement to quarantine for two weeks. In June, 21 travelers were arrested on suspicion of violating Hawaii’s quarantine order.
“Our new COVID testing program is another way we are helping customers meet their destinations’ entry requirements, safely and conveniently,” United Chief Customer Officer Toby Enqvist said in a release. “We’ll look to quickly expand customer testing to other destinations and U.S. airports later this year to complement our state-of-the-art cleaning and safety measures.”
Industry stakeholders want the U.S. to reach an agreement on pre-flight COVID-19 testing procedures with Europe, Canada or the Pacific as part of a “limited testing pilot project” to restore global travel.
“These rapid tests are critical for understanding community spread, doing contact tracing and helping people do their jobs, be in school and live their lives safely,” ABC News Medical Contributor Dr. Jay Bhatt said. “Still, we need better tests and better access to them. The tests should have rigorous review by the FDA as soon as possible and we continue to need to improve our turnaround times for results.”
United Airlines Chief Communication Officer Josh Earnest said the current limiting factor for U.S. airlines to implement these programs before international flights is not so much reliability, but availability of tests.
“We would love to see the U.S. government work with international authorities to lower the barriers to international trade and commerce,” Earnest told ABC News last week. “That would be good for the broader economy, it certainly would be good for a lot of U.S. citizens that are eager to travel, and obviously it would be really good for our business. … We just don’t have the capacity as a country, to do that many tests.”