Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, we're getting pretty used to travel restrictions changing regularly, but the latest measure to affect travelers is an especially significant one. In an industry first, United Arab Emirates airlines Etihad and Emirates will require all passengers flying to or through their hub cities of Abu Dhabi (AUH) or Dubai (DXB), respectively, to present a negative COVID-19 PCR test before boarding, starting Aug. 1, 2020. PCR tests determine whether or not a person actively has a COVID-19 infection, differing from antibody tests, which only check to see if you had contracted the virus in the past.
While many destinations around the world have strict entry rules regarding presenting negative tests, and some airlines have country-specific restrictions for travelers, this is the first time major airlines have implemented restrictions for all passengers, regardless of their departure point. It's also the first time travelers will need to present a negative test for simply transiting through an airport.
Both Etihad and Emirates have two major stipulations regarding these passenger-required PCR tests, too: they must be taken at an accredited facility within 96 hours of traveling. The latter rule may prove to be problematic for many passengers, given that lab turnaround times may be too slow for test results to remain valid for travel.
In a series of tweets, The Points Guy editor-at-large Zach Honig reported that it took 17 days to receive his COVID-19 PCR test results from a CityMD facility in New York City. He did, however, receive test results from the New York City public health system in just 29 hours this week.
Dramatically different turnaround times seem to be the norm, especially across the United States. Stiles Bennet, president of vacation rental company WIMCO Villas, was tested at two different facilities: the first result took six days to be delivered, while the second took seven. Shalini Seneviratne, senior global brand manager at Unilever, however, received hers in about 56 hours.
"What's important is to do your research up front," says Bennet. "Ask the people running the site what lab they are associated with, how often they ship samples to the lab—a few times a day or end of day only?—how quickly the samples get to the lab, and then how quickly they are processed." You can also see if expediting your test results is a possibility.
Still, asking those questions might not get you very far. Seneviratne was told her by her testing site that results would be ready within 48 hours, but they were delayed 10 hours. "They were not willing to even entertain the conversation about expediting," she adds. In the case of flying on Etihad or Emirates, those 10 hours could be the difference between letting you board and getting kicked off your flight.
While Etihad and Emirates are currently the only two major airlines to require negative COVID-19 PCR tests of all their inbound passengers, it wouldn't be surprising if others followed suit. Despite the inconvenience, these restrictions are one big way to help curtail the spread of the virus while simultaneously allowing travel to resume to some extent.