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United Airlines Becomes First U.S. Carrier to Offer Rapid COVID-19 Testing

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United Airlines will become the first U.S. airline to offer rapid COVID-19 passenger testing in an effort to both reassure passengers and help them circumvent quarantine restrictions through a negative test result. The trial program will get underway at San Francisco International Airport on October 15 using a testing device that can provide results in as little as 15-minutes.

Initially only available on United flights from San Francisco to Hawaii, the airline has come to an agreement with State officials that any passenger with a negative COVID-19 certificate obtained through the program will not be subjected to a mandatory 14-day quarantine requirement.

Hawaii plans to reopen to visitors from October 15 and will allow anyone with a negative COVID-19 test certificate dated within 72-hours of travel to bypass quarantine. United’s new testing program will make it a lot easier for visitors to comply with that requirement.

“Our new COVID testing program is another way we are helping customers meet their destinations’ entry requirements, safely and conveniently,” explained United’s chief customer officer, Toby Enqvist.

“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 that include a mandatory mask policy, antimicrobial and electrostatic spraying and our hospital-grade HEPA air filtration systems,” he continued.

Passengers will have two types of COVID-19 test to choose from. A rapid test conducted on the day of travel at the airport and which provides results within 15-minutes. Or a self-administered mail-in test option which should be submitted within 72-hours of travel.

United currently offers service to Hawaii from San Francisco to Honolulu (HNL), Maui (OGG) and Kona (KOA). Once the state reopens on October 15, the airline plans to resume service to Lihue and add additional flights to Maui (OGG) and Kona (KOA).

Passengers looking to have their test at the airport will first have to book their appointment in advance online. GoHealth Urgent Care who will be administering the tests have already been testing United’s international flight crew at San Francisco since July.

The test utilises the rapid Abbott ID NOW COVID-19 which first received emergency FDA authorization in March. The test, however, isn’t without controversy after early concern that the test was providing some false-negative results. Those concerns appear to have now been addressed.

Over 30 countries around the world are now offering some form of airport COVID-19 testing and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) now believes mass airport testing is the only way to safely restart air travel at scale. Both Dubai International Airport and Helsinki Airport are trialling sniffer dogs that can detect COVID-19, while a simple Israeli-developed gargle test is set to be trialled in several European airports in the coming weeks.

German flag-carrier also said on Wednesday that it was looking to roll out COVID-19 testing in the coming weeks, including at important overseas outposts such as in the United States. The airline did, however, say new rapid tests might be limited to premium First and Business Class passengers because of a lack of availability.

Currently, the mail-in test option will cost $80 plus shipping, while the rapid airport test could cost as much as $250. In comparison, similar airport testing programs in some European airports cost around $150. A spokesperson for United, however, said they expected the price to drop ahead of the official October 15 launch.

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Mateusz Maszczynski is a serving international flight attendant with experience at a major Middle East and European airline. Mateusz is passionate about the aviation industry and helping aspiring flight attendants achieve their dreams. Cabin crew recruitment can be tough, ultra-competitive and just a little bit confusing – Mateusz has been there and done that. He’s got the low down on what really works.

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