United Airlines has become the first carrier to offer international passengers flying to the United States the option of taking a rapid pre-departure COVID-19 test in the comfort of their own home or hotel. The collaboration with diagnostics company Abbott comes less than a week after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved at-home rapid testing to satisfy the requirement to provide proof of a recent negative test.
Abbott has developed the BinaxNOW™ COVID-19 Ag Card home test kit which is an FDA approved lateral flow device capable of returning results in just 15 minutes. The kit comes in the box the size of a folio and is designed to be taken with the traveller before they leave the United States on an international trip.
At a time of their choosing, the passenger can access the eMed on-demand telehealth service and administer the test under video-link supervision. Test results are then uploaded on Abbott’s companion NAVICA mobile app which is integrated with United’s Travel Ready Center to verify and store the results.
All air travelers returning to the US from abroad must provide proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of travel. The CDC allows passengers to take either a gold-standard Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test or a rapid antigen test. At-home test kits must, however, be FDA approved.
The CDC approved the use of supervised at-home testing last week in order to drive down the cost of pre-departure testing. “We appreciate the private sector proactively helping travelers have access to easy, reliable COVID-19 test options,” commented CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH.
“Comprehensive testing that is easy, rapid, accurate and trusted is a fundamental strategy for preventing the spread of COVID-19,” she continued.
But at the moment, United wants travelers to bulk buy test kits with a minimum order of six tests costing $150. The cost per test is more than double what Walmart is currently charging for what is essentially the same Abbott self-test kit but is simply known as the BinaxNOW test and not the BinaxNOW Ag Card test.
United Airlines, however, points out that the cost of its tests covers the prescription order and also includes any-time access to the supervised proctor service, along with a guided walk-through and digital verification and certification of test results.
The same test kit that can be bought over the counter in Walmart or CVS has different packaging and cannot be used by a traveller to fulfil the requirements of the CDC’s pre-departure testing order.
A spokesperson for United wasn’t immediately able to say why the test kits were only available in packs of six but Abbott suggests passengers take at least two tests with them on their travels just in case one returns an inconclusive test result.
“We want to give our customers greater peace of mind that when they travel internationally, they’ll be able to return to the U.S quickly and safely,” commented Toby Enqvist, United’s chief customer officer.
“The Abbott BinaxNOW Home Test meets CDC requirements and, along with our partners at Abbott, United is doubling down on our commitment to make international travel as safe and convenient as possible by offering an easy testing option when customers are ready to return to the United States.”
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.