Emirates has told passengers flying direct from Dubai to the United States that they cannot use rapid antigen COVID-19 tests to comply with pre-departure testing rules even though these types of tests are authorized for travel by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The ban means that U.S. travelers who have invested in the popular Abbott BinaxNOW self-test kit through eMed will not be allowed to use the test to fulfil pre-departure testing requirements when flying with Emirates from Dubai to any destination in the United States.
Passengers are instead advised by Emirates to provide proof of a negative PCR test taken within one day of departure. Thankfully, PCR testing facilities are easy to come by in Dubai and tests results are usually supplied within a few hours.
It’s not entirely clear why Emirates has decided to ban people from using self-tests on U.S. bound flights but Dubai has invested heavily in its PCR testing infrastructure and has largely shunned rapid antigen testing and at-home testing options.
The emirate does, at least, now offer self-testing options (the popular Panbio antigen test is actually made by Abbott) but these are not cleared for travel.
For U.S.-bound passengers, the Abbott BinaxNOW test is only accepted for travel when sold as the BinaxNOW™ COVID-19 Ag proctored version through eMed. The kits are usually sold as a pack of six for $150 but even this investment is significantly cheaper than seeking out individual tests for a family or for a frequent flyer.
eMed warns that some airlines may restrict the use of the BinaxNOW test for travel even if it’s compliant with CDC rules.
Emirates does, however, let passengers heading to the U.S. use the test if they are simply transiting through Dubai from another country. The same applies to customers flying with Emirates on one of its fifth freedom U.S.-bound flights from Athens and Milan.
One of the reasons that the CDC approved the use of rapid antigen tests for travel was that they are cheaper and more accessible than PCR tests which require expensive laboratory equipment. This is especially important given that the CDC reduced the timeframe for a negative test to just one day from departure.
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.