Lufthansa has become the latest airline to offer what’s been dubbed as “COVID free” flights with mandatory pre-departure Coronavirus testing. Similar trials have also been launched or are about to be introduced from United Airlines, Alitalia and Austrian Airlines. In the coming weeks and months, similar trials are likely to be launched by many other airlines ahead of a wider rollout of the technology.
For now, Lufthansa will trial its testing process on just one daily return flight between Munich and Hamburg (flight numbers: LH2058 and LH2059). Passengers who don’t want to have a pre-departure test will, for the time being at least, be allowed to rebook onto an alternative flight free of charge.
“With our test strategy, we are pursuing the goal of using the data obtained to gain important insights into the use of rapid tests,” explained Lufthansa Executive Board member Christina Foerster.
The airline industry is leaning strongly towards pre-departure testing as a way to safely restart international travel and these trials are seen as a key way to gather data that will convince governments to back their proposals.
Rapid antigen tests aren’t as accurate as traditional PCR tests but they are cheap and can return results in as little 15-minutes. Over the last few months, the technology has also improved dramatically and the tests are far more accurate than what they were at the start of the pandemic.
While the tests can return results in a few minutes, Lufthansa says passengers will have to wait up to an hour to get their results. Only once the test result has been received will the passenger’s boarding pass be activated allowing them access past screening checkpoints.
The process is similar to the trial being run by Austrian Airlines – itself part of the Lufthansa Group. The test is free but passengers booked onboard these two flights will have to register in advance before turning up at the airport.
Austrian Airlines initially made the testing process voluntary but in what it has described as the “second phase” of the trial, the test is now mandatory. Austrian changed the rules after just 25 per cent of booked passengers opted to take the free test. The only way to avoid taking a test at the airport is to have a negative test certificate dated within 48-hours of travel.
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 used by some of the biggest names in journalism.