The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Friday that at home COVID-19 tests can now be used by international airline passengers heading to the United States to satisfy the requirement to provide proof of a recent negative test.
The policy change will be particularly welcome by passengers travelling from countries where access to quick and readily available testing is still in short supply. The new rules will also mean less chance of passengers being denied boarding because the validity of their test has run out.
Since January, the CDC has required all airline passengers over the age of two travelling to the United States from an international destination provide proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of travel. The rules remain in force even for fully vaccinated travelers, although proof of recent infection is available as an alternative.
Critics of the policy have long warned that the rules could make it all but impossible for some travelers to get into the United States because of inequitable access to reliable COVID-19 testing in some countries.
Under the new guidance, however, travelers will be able to pack a rapid COVID-19 test in their luggage before leaving the United States and then take the test in the comfort of their own home or hotel room.
To comply with the CDC testing order, the test must be an FDA approved SARS-CoV-2 viral test (either nucleic acid amplification test or antigen test) and it must be performed under real-time supervision through a telehealth service.
The test provider will verify the travelers identity, observe the specimen collection and testing procedures, and then confirm the test result before issuing a digital certificate that can be used to provide proof to airlines and border officials.
Similar at-home tests conducted under digital supervision have been approved by several other countries including the United Kingdom for several months. The policy has helped drive down the cost of pre-departure tests with British Airways offering a rapid antigen test and certificate for just $46.
Aviation trade group Airlines for America praised the news, saying: “This is an encouraging step in facilitating the international travel process, while continuing to prioritize the safety and well-being of all travelers and employees seeking entry to the U.S.”
The CDC did, however, warn that some countries might restrict travelers bringing certain tests with them if they haven’t been approved by local authorities. Travelers should therefore check local restrictions before packing a pre-departure test.
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.