United Airlines is officially the first airline to offer rapid COVID-19 tests to passengers. The testing will begin on October 15th in San Francisco, California, for passengers heading to Hawaii. Eventually, United will expand their testing of passengers to more routes.
“Our new COVID testing program is another way we are helping customers meet their destinations’ entry requirements, safely and conveniently,” Toby Enqvist, United’s chief customer officer, said in a statement. “We’ll look to quickly expand customer testing to other destinations and U.S. airports later this year.”
The test won’t keep someone from missing their flight, either. The health tech company called Abbot is behind the 15-minute test. Passengers can even request a test a few days before their flight and mail back their test samples. Hopefully, the airport testing will eventually help tourism in Hawaii. The beautiful state now has 70% fewer incoming flights, 91% less TSA checkpoint traffic, and even worse, 94% less incoming travelers to help boost the economy.
In the meantime, United and other major airlines have been calling on federal governments to assist them in testing. Airlines have already gotten major funds from the federal government. Now, they want testing sites at their airports to bring back international travel. Back in July, United CEO Jack Kirby, signed a letter asking officials in the United States and European Union to assist with testing. “Given the unquestioned importance of transatlantic air travel to the global economy as well as to the economic recovery of our businesses, we believe it is critical to find a way to re-open air services between the U.S. and Europe,” the letter read. “Nobody will benefit from a prolonged closure of this most indispensable corridor for global aviation.”
The airline’s announcement comes soon after the state of Hawaii announced a pre-travel testing program. As for the state’s 14-day quarantine for incoming travelers, the new rules will allow them to bypass quarantine “if they are tested no earlier than 72 hours before their flight arrives with an FDA-approved nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT),” according to the state.
Before the end of the year, United Airlines will test passengers for COVID-19 at other locations. The International Air Transport Association wants everyone at the San Francisco airport tested before flying, including crew members and passengers. The Association, which reps nearly 300 airlines worldwide, is asking governments to fund and execute testing at airports across the globe.
The Association is confident travel will increase as a result. “The key to restoring the freedom of mobility across borders is systematic COVID-19 testing of all travelers before departure,” says the association’s CEO, Alexandre de Juniac. “This will give governments the confidence to open their borders without complicated risk models that see constant changes in the rules imposed on travel. Testing all passengers will give people back their freedom to travel with confidence. And that will put millions of people back to work.”
This year, international travel is down 92% due to the pandemic and resulting border closures. Passengers from the United States are currently restricted from traveling to the European Union at the moment, due to the country’s high rates of COVID-19. In the United States, over 202,000 people have died from the virus.