United Launches a COVID Testing Program for Flights to London

The program will offer free rapid tests to passengers during a month-long trial

United Airlines

Courtesy of United Airlines

Just as masks, hand sanitizing stations, and social distancing have become the norm while traveling, it looks like rapid COVID-19 tests are going to become a regular part of your journey soon.

United Airlines announced this morning that it would begin a trial COVID-19 testing program between Nov. 16 and Dec. 11 on select flights between Newark Liberty International Airport in the New York City area to London's Heathrow Airport. All passengers over the age of two will receive a free rapid test before boarding, all but ensuring—kind of—a virus-free cabin, providing a sense of comfort for concerned travelers. (Note that rapid tests, like all COVID-19 tests, don't guarantee 100 percent accuracy.)

"We believe the ability to provide fast, same-day COVID-19 testing will play a vital role in safely reopening travel around the world and navigating quarantines and travel restrictions, particularly to key international destinations like London," Toby Enqvist, chief customer officer for United, said in a statement. "Through this pilot program, we'll guarantee that everyone on board has tested negative for COVID-19, adding another element to our layered approach to safety. United will continue to lead on testing, while at the same time exploring new solutions that contribute to the safest travel experience possible."

United is partnering with Premise Health for the test, which passengers will take at the airport a recommended three hours before their flight. Passengers who opt out of the test program will be accommodated on a different flight not to disrupt passengers' safe "bubble" on the original flight.

While United has launched a similar pilot program for flights between San Francisco and Hawaii, this new program marks the first time an airline has offered testing on a transatlantic flight—such testing might aid in the proposed opening of a "travel corridor" between New York and London, which would eliminate the mandatory 14-day quarantine for arriving travelers.

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  1. United Airlines. "United Airlines Launches World's First Tree Transatlantic COVID-19 Testing Pilot." October 29, 2020.