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United to Push Ahead With Pre-Flight COVID-19 Testing Trial Even as England Plunges into a Second Lockdown

United to Push Ahead With Pre-Flight COVID-19 Testing Trial Even as England Plunges into a Second Lockdown

United Airlines is to push ahead with a planned pre-flight COVID-19 testing trial on select flights between Newark (EWR) and London Heathrow (LHR) even as England prepares to enter a second national Coronavirus lockdown from November 4. The lockdown is due to finish on December 2 but could be extended.

Last week, United announced plans to become the first airline in the world to offer ‘COVID-19 free’ flights on a transatlantic route by requiring everyone over the age of two, including crew members, to take a rapid Coronavirus test before departure.

Tests will be administered by Premise Health workers at a facility close to the United Club at Newark Airport. All passengers booked to travel on United Airlines flight UA14 to Heathrow departing on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from November 16 through December 11 will need to take a test.

Passengers who decline the free service will be rebooked onto an alternative flight. Despite England going into a second lockdown and much of the United Kingdom facing stricter Coronavirus controls, United says the trial will still give it invaluable insights that could pave the way for wider pre-flight testing.

“United Airlines is a leader in making the air travel experience as safe as possible. Testing is one component of our multi-layered approach to safety and will only grow in importance as we look to safely reopen travel to key international destinations,” a spokesperson for the Chicago-based airline told us.

“We look forward to launching our first-of-its-kind pilot program between New York/Newark and London Heathrow on November 16. Insights from this trial will demonstrate alternatives exist to quarantines and offer governments options beyond blanket travel restrictions.”

Calls from the aviation industry to ease travel restrictions, lift existing border controls and do away with quarantine rules are growing ever louder as airlines seek ways to safely restart international travel on scale.

Industry experts and airline executives believe cheap mass rapid tests that can return results in 15 minutes or less could be a game changer in their fight for survival admidst the Coronavirus pandemic.

Despite ongoing talks between U.S. officials and governments on the other side of the Atlantic, there’s so far been no real progress on replacing travel bans with the use of pre-flight testing. United hopes data from its trial might just be able to convince both sides to move forward with a wider rollout.

While the industry prefers the use of pre-flight testing, some countries are relying on testing on arrival to ease quarantine restrictions. Canada has approved a trial at Calgary Airport that effectively exempts travellers from undergoing a mandatory 14-day quarantine if they take a test on arrival and a second test seven days later.

The Canadian government was convinced to approve the trial after a study conducted by Air Canada found an initial test on arrival detected 80 per cent of positive cases. The remaining cases were detected on day seven and none on day 14.

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