United Announces Expanded Passenger COVID-19 Testing

MIAMI – United Airlines (UA) has expanded their already-successful COVID-19 testing program to passengers, the company announced in a statement on Monday. Starting December 7, Passengers departing Houston (IAH) bound for many Central and South American destinations can utilize the mail-in test service provided by UA for a cost.

As a result of rising COVID-19 cases worldwide, many countries now require a negative test prior to entrance. These strict regulations create an additional barrier for the lagging airline industry.

United has seen successful numbers from their existing testing services, which are currently offered on service from San Francisco (SFO) to Hawaii (HNL) and Newark (EWR) to London-Heathrow (LHR). The service on flights originating from SFO to HNL has increased travel close to 95% compared to the previous 2-week period, according to an official UA statement.

United Airlines Airbus A319-100. PHOTO: Luke Ayers/Airways

Testing Details

The testing service for flights originating from IAH to certain destinations is a self-collected, mail-in test administered by Advanced Diagnostic Laboratory. UA currently offers this service at IAH for the following destinations:

  • Aruba (AUA)
  • Belize City, Belize (BZE)
  • Guatemala City, Guatemala (GUA)
  • Lima, Peru (LIM)
  • Nassau, Bahamas (NAS)
  • Panama City, Panama (PTY)
  • San Pedro Sula, Honduras (SAP)
  • San Salvador, El Salvador (SAL)
  • Tegucigalpa, Honduras (TGU)

Passengers will be notified 14 days in advance of departure if they are traveling on an eligible ticket. It is recommended that passengers take the nasal swab test 72 hours prior to departure, which results coming in digital form 24-48 hours later. Currently, the cost for this service is $119. For comparison, the drive-thru testing service offered on the SFO-HNL route comes at a cost of $105, and requires an appointment.

“We are invested in United’s commitment to ensuring customers not only meet their destination’s entry requirements but that, when they do travel, they do so in a way that is safer.” said Stan Crawford, COO of Advanced Diagnostic Laboratory.

Advanced Diagnostic Laboratory mail-in nasal swab kit. PHOTO: United Airlines

The Role of Testing

Until an effective vaccine can be widely distributed, accurate COVID-19 tests appear to be most effective in bypassing strict travel regulations and ensuring a safe in-flight experience.

Lufthansa (LH) has developed an extremely effective testing center at Frankfurt Airport (FRA), which is also available to the general public. The German flag-carrier has been an innovator in the space–offering rapid COVID-19 tests for some tickets since October. Their efforts have proven successful, with the airline managing to stay afloat despite massive decreases in passenger volume.

However, across the pond, UA has been a force of its own. Earlier this year, the Chicago-based carrier partnered with the US Department of Defense on a study that found the risk of contracting COVID-19 on a plane is ‘almost non-existent’.

Testing plays an important role in the ever-changing landscape of the airline industry. Despite the current climate, the expansion of services continue to serve as a light at the end of the tunnel

Featured Image: Various UA Aircraft, including a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. PHOTO: Luca Flores/Airways