United Airlines has announced a pre-flight COVID-19 test will be compulsory on designated flights between Newark Liberty International Airport and London Heathrow from November 16 to December 11.

How the United Airlines COVID-19 Testing Trial Will Work

The American airline, United Airlines, will require pre-flight testing on weekly flights between Newark and Heathrow – flights departing Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  This will apply during a four-week test period.  All crew members on these flights will be required to test negative for COVID-19 before departure.  All passengers over the age of two must have a negative test.  The pre-flight rapid nasal swab test will be free.  Passengers who have already had a negative COVID-19 test will still be required to take this pre-flight test.  If a passenger refuses to take the test they will be put on a different flight.

United Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner Holding as Boeing 777-222 Arrives
United Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner Holding as Boeing 777-222 Arrives © Ray Harvey via flick

This means that throughout the trial period United Airlines can guarantee that every passenger on the designated flights has had a negative test for COVID-19.  These tests will take place by appointment at the on-site facility at Newark airport.  Passengers should book an appointment at least 3 hours before their flight departs.  Passengers who test positive cannot board the plane.  They can re-book the flight for free or request a refund.

United Airlines Will Share Feedback from this Trial

The airline will collect and share feedback from passengers with the governments of America and the UK.  It hopes this will help find an alternative to mandatory quarantine and prevent duplication of effort regarding restrictions on travel.  There are currently some situations where travellers have to test on both departure and arrival.

United Airlines has also instigated another trial relating to pre-flight COVID-19 testing.  On October 15 it started offering pre-flight testing to passengers travelling between San Francisco International and Hawaii.  Passengers with a negative test were able to bypass the mandatory quarantine requirement in Hawaii.  The airline reported that during the first 10 days of testing passenger numbers almost doubled compared to the previous two weeks.

London Heathrow Terminal 5
London Heathrow Terminal 5 © British Airways

Toby Enqvist, Chief Customer Officer of United Airlines, is optimistic about the outcome of this trial.  He believes the provision of fast, same-day Covid-19 testing will play a vital role in safely reopening travel around the world.  However, there are some obstacles to overcome before this can happen.  The most important is that travellers from Newark, New Jersey to London Heathrow will still have to quarantine on arrival in the UK.  And, the nasal swab test used in this trial may not satisfy testing requirements in other countries.

How do you feel about pre-flight testing versus quarantine?  Tell us what you think in the comments.

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