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Airport COVID-19 Testing is a “Complete Waste of Time” According to Ryanair Chief Executive

Airport COVID-19 Testing is a “Complete Waste of Time” According to Ryanair Chief Executive

Michael O’Leary, the often outspoken chief executive of Irish low-cost airline Ryanair, has broken ranks with many others in the airline industry by describing pre-flight COVID-19 testing conducted just before departure as a “complete waste of time”. His comments come as airlines push ahead with plans to introduce in-airport testing as a way to create “Coronavirus free” flights.

“Airport testing is a complete waste of time. It’s too late and it takes too long,” O’Leary said during the World Travel Market virtual conference last week.

Not that O’Leary is completely against the idea of pre-flight testing – not only to make flying safer but also as a way to lift travel restrictions and help people avoid mandatory quarantine rules.

“We’re generally supportive of pre-departure testing but it should be within 72 hours or 36 hours,” O’Leary continued. “People should be coming to airports with negative tests,” he explained, implying that the cost of getting tested should be borne by the passenger rather than the airlines.

When it comes to pre-travel testing, there are currently two competing methods. The first is for passengers to pay for a ‘gold standard’ PCR test up to 72 or even 96 hours before departure. This method was pre-flight testing was first introduced by Dubai back in July and has since been copied by a number of countries and jurisdictions including Hawaii and now Spain.

The second method is a rapid antigen test conducted at the airport just before departure. The tests are cheap and quick and it’s the preferred method by many players in the airline industry because it’s readily scaleable and guarantees that everyone has actually had a test under controlled conditions.

The problem with antigen tests, however, is that they aren’t nearly as accurate as PCR tests – the gap, though, is narrowing and the technology has improved massively in recent months.

The cost of a PCR test for travel is around $150, while the cost of an antigen test is as little as $5. That cost, however, is being covered completely by three airlines currently undertaking trials of the tech.

Whatever method is chosen, the airline industry is desperate to use pre-flight testing as a way to ease quarantine and travel restrictions. Even with a vaccine for COVID-19 on the horizon, many industry executives believe testing will become a routine part of taking an international flight for several years to come.

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