United Airlines is preparing to extend rapid pre-flight COVID-19 testing for flight attendants operating to certain international destinations. The airline already requires flight attendants operating flights to Tahiti from San Francisco to undergo a nasal swab-style Coronavirus test and is looking to offer the service to more destinations to support a safe restart to international travel.
In September, United became the first U.S.-based airline to offer pre-flight testing for passengers travelling to Hawaii from San Francisco. A 15-minute test conducted at check-in, however, could cost travellers as much as $250, while an at-home test will set back passengers just $80.
Pre-flight testing will help visitors to Hawaii avoid a 14-day quarantine on arrival and both Hawaiian Airlines and American Airlines have since introduced their own testing services for passengers. United, however, so far remains the only airline to offer rapid in-airport testing.
According to the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA), the healthcare provider that United has partnered with also has facilities close to Newark (EWR), Houston (IAD), Los Angeles (LAX) and Chicago (ORD), making these locations the most likely airports where flight attendants will soon undergo pre-flight COVID-19 testing.
It’s not known whether United intends to extend regular testing on domestic legs.
Over six months ago, Emirates became the first airline to require flight attendants to undergo PCR Coronavirus tests. But the Dubai-based carrier soon abandoned mass testing which was conducted on arrival back into Dubai, rather than on departure.
Rapid testing, however, is now seen as key to safely restarting international air travel on a mass scale and in a way that will allow governments to reduce or eliminate altogether quarantine requirements. Passenger surveys suggest the vast majority of travellers wouldn’t even consider going abroad if they had to self-isolate for 14-days.
Earlier this week, Virgin Atlantic announced its intentions to test crew members at least once per month for COVID-19. Currently, the airline only conducts the tests on crew flying to Shanghai and Hong Kong where pre-departure testing for all passengers and crew is a mandatory requirement.
The airline intends to roll-out its 30-minute on-site test to other destinations over the coming weeks and has urged the British and US governments to introduce pre-departure testing in order to minimise quarantine and lift travel restrictions. The airline’s approach is supported by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
Delta Air Lines has conducted antigen Coronavirus testing on nearly its entire workforce but has not detailed plans to extend the program to regular pre-flight requirements. The airline says its considering options on how to get the most benefit from regular employee testing.
Chief executive Ed Bastian noted that the results showed a lower rate of infections amongst frontline airline employees compared to the general population. United Airlines chief executive Scott Kirby has backed up those claims, linking the lower infection rate to safety processes introduced over the last few months.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.