Little more than a week after Austrian Airlines started offering voluntary pre-flight COVID-19 tests on certain flights, the airline has had to make the testing process mandatory after just 25 per cent of passengers opted to take the rapid 15-minute test. Austrian Airlines has given passengers just three days notice, with the tests set to become mandatory from November 8 through to the end of the month.
Austrian Airlines is hoping to prove that mass rapid testing using antigen tests that use either a nose swab or saliva sample can make flying safe, reduce the inadvertent spread of Coronavirus and convince governments to loosen travel restrictions that have all but shut down the airline industry.
Through the testing trial at Vienna International Airport, the airline says it is hoping to optimise the process so that it is easily scalable, works with existing airport processes and remains (at least relatively) pleasant for passengers.
After going through the normal check-in process, passengers simply queue up in a separate line to have their sample taken and then wait for around 15-minutes. As soon as the results come back, it’s sent by SMS to the passenger’s phone. If the result is negative the boarding pass is automatically activated.
If the result is positive, Austrian says passengers will be referred to medical personnel and they can either opt for a full refund on their ticket or rebook for a later date.
But while the vast majority of passengers say they would be willing to take a COVID-19 test in order to travel according to one industry survey, it seems that given the choice, passengers would much rather simply skip the test and catch their flight.
“About 25 per cent of the passengers volunteered to have themselves tested in the first testing phase,” Austrian Airlines chief operating officer Jens Ritter bluntly explained on Thursday.
“Our objective is to make quarantine regulations obsolete in the future on the basis of a sophisticated testing strategy. Mandatory tests are a further step on this path. In the medium term, the hope exists that the use of rapid tests will lead to a loosening of the numerous travel restrictions and make travelling easier and possible to plan once again,” Ritter continued.
The trial initially started on Austrian Airlines flight OS229 to Berlin but is now being expanded on flights to and from Hamburg (flight numbers OS171 and OS172 respectively).
Passengers are being asked to get to the airport at least two hours before departure to make sure there’s enough time to complete the testing process, although you can skip the airport test if you’ve had a negative PCR test within 48-hours of your flight.
United Airlines also says it will continue with a pre-flight rapid testing trial on its route between Newark and London Heathrow. The month-long trial also aims to gather data with the aim of proving that testing on departure is enough to get people flying again. The tests will also be mandatory, although United will offer to rebook passengers onto an alternative flight which isn’t part of the trial.
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.