United will first offer tests to passengers traveling to Hawaii from San Francisco.

By Andrea Romano
September 24, 2020
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Update (Sept. 30, 2020 11:30) A previous version of this article stated that Hawaii-bound United passengers could take an at-home, mail-in COVID-19 test before traveling. Since publication, the state has reversed this decision and will not accept the mail-in tests, according to a spokesperson from the Hawai‘i Visitors & Convention Bureau.

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Travel during the pandemic is changing, and two major airlines are finding an easier way to help customers get to their destinations.

United Airlines became the first U.S. airline to launch a rapid coronavirus testing program for travelers, the company said in a statement. This new testing protocol will ultimately help travelers better manage quarantine requirements for many destinations around the world.

Starting on Oct. 15, customers traveling on United from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Hawaii’s airports will have the option to take a rapid test at the airport. New tests provided by Abbott Laboratories and administered by GoHealth Urgent Care gives airport staff results in about 15 minutes. Previously, this testing was offered to flight crews only, but the airline is now expanding it to customers as well.

At the moment, Hawaii requires a 14-day quarantine for all travelers. However, United passengers will be able to bypass this requirement if they get a negative result within 72 hours of their departure to Hawaii.

“Our new COVID testing program is another way we are helping customers meet their destinations’ entry requirements, safely and conveniently,” said Toby Enqvist, Chief Customer Officer at United, in a statement. Enqvist also mentioned that the airline is planning to expand customer testing to other destinations and U.S. airports later this year.

According to Reuters, German airline Lufthansa is planning to start making rapid coronavirus antigen tests available to passengers in October as well. In addition, the airline may also be thinking about opening testing centers at airports in the U.S. and Canada.

Since there is a limited supply of tests, Bjoern Becker, senior director, product management, ground & digital services for the Lufthansa Group, told Reuters reporters that the airline is considering initially offering these rapid tests to first-class and business-class passengers only.

“You know that companies like Abbott or Roche are bringing these tests to the market and we are definitely looking into this,” said Becker in a call with Reuters. “You will see us applying them for new products within the next few weeks in October. That’s definitely the next thing to come.”

Dubai-based airline Emirates also started offering rapid tests to passengers in April. As the coronavirus pandemic continues around the world, it is likely that other airlines will consider this option in the future.