United Airlines to start trial of free Covid tests for passengers on London flights


A traveler wearing a protective mask waits to board a United Airlines flight at San Francisco International Airport on October 15, 2020.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

United Airlines on Thursday announced plans to offer Covid-19 pre-flight testing next month to some travelers heading to London, the latest effort to bypass travel restrictions and concerns about the virus.

The test will run from November 16 to December 11 on select flights from its hub in Newark, New Jersey, to Heathrow in London. United will pay for Abbott ID Now rapid molecular tests, for Monday, Wednesday and Friday departures. Travelers who do not wish to be tested will be transferred to other flights “ensuring that everyone on board except children under the age of two will test negative before departure,” the airline said.

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United and other airlines with sprawling international networks have struggled during the pandemic, as a network of travel bans and quarantine requirements devastates demand.

But carriers are increasingly turning to pre-flight testing as a potential way to avoid quarantine periods and outright entry restrictions, and have urged officials to view negative test results as a substitute for quarantines and other rules.

“This patchwork of rules is confusing and discourages travel,” wrote a group of 20 business groups that represent companies from American Airlines to Boeing and Marriott and unions to the Trump administration last week. “In addition, there are alternatives to quarantines, such as screening and screening departing or pre-departure passengers, which can significantly reduce the risk of importing COVID-19 and may in fact be more effective due to the difficulties in enforcing quarantine requirements. “

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United earlier this month began offering Covid tests, which travelers pay, to some passengers traveling from San Francisco to Hawaii. The launch coincided with Hawaii’s removal of a two-week quarantine requirement for inbound travelers if they tested negative for Covid-19 within 72 hours.

Pre-testing of London flights will be carried out at Newark Airport in a United Club lounge and customers should make an appointment in advance.

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United said it would share customer feedback with U.S. and U.K. government officials and said travel demand increased when travelers had the opportunity to test for the virus before the flight.