Israeli flag carrier El Al Airlines will carry out COVID-19 nasal swab testing on passengers mid-flight as part of a pilot scheme on flights from New York JFK to Tel Aviv. The hope is that by performing the tests in-flight, passengers will be able to avoid long lines to have a test after arriving in Israel.
The pilot will take place later today (Thursday) with some passengers having the test at the gate before boarding and others having the nasal swab test at some point during the nearly 10-hour flight.
The tests won’t be carried out by cabin crew but technicians from Femi and Xpres Check testing companies that have contracts with the Israeli government and have labs at New York JFK and Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport.
The Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests will still need to be sent to a lab and passengers won’t receive the results until they have disembarked.
Spooked by rising infection levels amongst one of the world’s most vaccinated populations, Israel has reimposed tough new border controls in an effort to prevent further importation of the Delta variant, as well as any other variant that might pose a risk to the country’s vaccination campaign.
Travelers from the United States, along with a host of other countries must now self-isolate for seven days on arrival whether they are fully vaccinated or not.
Nearly all travel has been banned from a growing list of countries including the UK, Spain, the United Arab Emirates and Mexico.
Those passengers who are allowed to travel to Israel must be tested on arrival – with the exception of Thursday’s trial that will let passengers skip that step.
Despite the tough new border controls, Israel is sliding towards a new lockdown just weeks after dropping all social distancing rules and a face mask mandate. The Delta variant now accounts for the majority of new infections in Israel and has prompted thew start of a booster jab campaign despite calls from the World Health Organization (WHO) to divert the shots to countries in greater need.
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.