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Would You Fly to London if You Knew Everyone Onboard Was Negative for COVID?

By Michelle Baran

Oct 29, 2020

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United is offering flights to London on which it’s guaranteeing that only passengers who test negative for COVID will board.

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United is offering flights to London on which it’s guaranteeing that only passengers who test negative for COVID will board.

This is the guarantee United wants to ensure with a new pilot program that’s offering free COVID-19 tests to all passengers on select flights from Newark to Heathrow.

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Starting on November 16, United Airlines will offer free rapid-result COVID-19 tests to every passenger (age two and older) and all crew members onboard select flights from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to London Heathrow (LHR)— guaranteeing that everyone on the flight other than children under two all tested negative before departure.

Those who do not wish to be tested will be placed on alternate flights. The move marks the first complimentary transatlantic COVID-19 testing program, which is currently slated to run from November 16 through December 11. It comes on the heels of several developments in the realm of using COVID-19 testing to help reopen international travel, including the launch of a COVID-19 digital “health passport,” an effort United has also been involved with.

The first transatlantic trial of the new digital Common Pass took place earlier this month on a United flight from Heathrow to Newark, enabling travelers to provide certified COVID-19 test information to border officials upon arrival. The idea is that if and when governments allow travelers to provide negative COVID-19 test results in lieu of outright travel bans or quarantine requirements, the Common Pass would provide a convenient and reliable method for providing confirmed testing information to border officials.

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“We believe the ability to provide fast, same-day COVID-19 testing will play a vital role in safely reopening travel around the world and navigating quarantines and travel restrictions, particularly to key international destinations like London,” United’s chief customer officer Toby Enqvist said in a statement.

Currently, Americans can travel to the United Kingdom if they agree to a strict 14-day quarantine requirement upon arrival—and the COVID-19 testing trial United is hosting doesn’t change that requirement. Travelers coming from the U.K. are banned from entering the United States unless they are U.S. citizens or permanent residents. But officials on both sides of the pond have expressed the desire to see testing pave the way for a further opening of borders and to offer an alternative to quarantine requirements.

Knowing everyone onboard the flight has been tested could also serve to ease some travelers’ concerns about in-flight transmission risks.

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United said it has seen a positive impact on travel demand and “significant increases” in flight loads and revenue when testing options are available.

For its Newark-to-Heathrow pilot testing program, United is working with healthcare provider Premise Health, which will oversee the administration of the rapid testing at Newark. The test will be given to passengers traveling on United Flight 14, which departs at 7:15 p.m., on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Appointments for the test are required, and customers are advised to schedule their tests at least three hours prior their flight. An on-site testing facility will be located at the Newark United Club near Gate C93.

On October 15, when Hawaii’s Pre-Travel Testing Program kicked off, allowing travelers to present a negative COVID-19 test to bypass the state’s otherwise mandatory 14-day guarantee, several airlines, including United, began offering preflight testing options to customers.

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Airports are increasingly offering testing, too. There are now testing facilities at Newark and John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York, set up by XpresChek, a brand that was created this summer by airport wellness company XpresSpa. Another XpresCheck facility is in the works at Boston Logan International. And there are testing options at San Francisco International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Dallas–Forth Worth, and Miami, among others.

>> Next: Travel Between New York and London Could Resume as Early as November

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