After United Airlines last week became the first U.S. airline to offer a rapid COVID-19 testing option to its passengers, other U.S. carriers have quickly followed suit.
In a September 24 announcement, United said that its new COVID-19 testing program will kick off on October 15, when customers traveling from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Hawaii will have the ability to take a rapid test at the airport—coinciding with when Hawaii drops its quarantine requirement in exchange for a mandatory COVID-19 test.
The news was followed by a similar announcement from Hawaiian Airlines on September 25, promising rapid tests at Los Angeles International (LAX) and SFO. Then American Airlines joined the COVID-19 testing club on September 29 with plans for testing on flights from Miami to Jamaica to begin in October, as well as on other routes. And most recently, Alaska Airlines on September 30 said it, too, would be offering testing for passengers flying fom Seattle to Hawaii.
“We’ll look to quickly expand customer testing to other destinations and U.S. airports later this year,” stated United’s chief customer officer Toby Enqvist.
For United’s Hawaii flights, the rapid Abbott ID NOW COVID-19 test will be administered by GoHealth Urgent Care and its partner Dignity Health at SFO, and results will be provided in approximately 15 minutes. The test can be scheduled online and currently costs $250. It will be available to United customers on the same day as their flight departing from SFO (the airport has already had a testing program in place for employees since late July). The GoHealth Urgent Care’s COVID-19 testing area will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
There will also be a cheaper mail-in test option, for $80, administered by the company Color, for which United recommends that passengers initiate the testing process 10 days prior to their trip and provide a sample within 72 hours of their flight to satisfy Hawaii’s COVID-19 testing requirement.
United offers daily service between San Francisco and Honolulu in Oahu, Kahului in Maui, and Kona on the Big Island. The airline will also increase service to Hawaii on October 15 with the resumption of service between San Francisco and Lihue on Kauai.
Hawaii’s coronavirus testing requirement
The airlines’ race to implement COVID-19 testing has been spurred in part by the fact that Hawaii will soon be moving from a mandatory quarantine to a COVID-19 testing requirement. Hawaii has had a compulsory 14-day quarantine in place for all arrivals to the islands since March 26. But Hawaii Governor David Ige recently announced that starting on October 15, visitors to Hawaii will be able to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result to avoid the quarantine.
Once Hawaii’s testing program goes into effect on October 15, out-of-state travelers arriving in Hawaii will need to furnish evidence of a negative COVID-19 test that was taken within 72 hours before arrival on the islands. Without the negative test result, passengers will be subject to a 14-day quarantine or must quarantine until they can provide proof of a negative test result.
As of September 1, travelers to Hawaii must also fill out a mandatory online health application at least 24 hours prior to departure.
Hawaiian and Alaska will offer testing for Hawaii flights, too
United’s announcement was swiftly followed by an update from Hawaiian Airlines, promising drive-through nasal swab tests in a partnership with Worksite Labs at both LAX and SFO. More locations are expected soon. The cost? It’s $90 if you want the results within 36 hours or $150 for day-of-travel express service. Hawaiian plans to begin offering the service from October 15.
On September 30, Alaska Airlines said it would be jumping on the Hawaii COVID-19 testing bandwagon as well. Starting October 12, Alaska will begin offering rapid COVID-19 tests for passengers flying from Seattle to Hawaii for $135. Alaska customers can schedule the test through Carbon Health at the provider’s downtown Seattle clinic, and results will be available within two hours.
Starting November 1, Alaska will resume nonstop service to Hawaii from Portland, Oregon; San Jose, California; and San Diego, California, and the airline said that Carbon Health is planning to offer rapid COVID-19 testing in those cities in the coming weeks as well.
American Airlines launches testing for Hawaii and the Caribbean
On September 29, American Airlines revealed that it will begin offering preflight COVID-19 testing for customers traveling from Miami (MIA) to Jamaica in October and will also make it available to travelers flying from Dallas–Fort Worth (DFW) to Hawaii starting on October 15. Additionally, the carrier has plans in the works for a testing program for the Bahamas and for other Caribbean destinations (though it did not specify which ones).
For the Miami–Jamaica flights, the initial phase of testing will only be for Jamaican residents traveling home, allowing them to bypass the otherwise mandatory 14-day quarantine. If that pilot program is successful, the new testing option will be made available to all passengers traveling to Jamaica, including U.S. citizens—although there is no precise date for when that would be. American said it plans to launch a testing program for the Bahamas in October, with more details to come.
The options for getting tested prior to the Dallas–Hawaii flights will be an at-home test kit provided by LetsGetChecked (with results provided within 48 hours on average) that costs $129, including shipping; in-person testing at a CareNow urgent care location in the Dallas area; or a rapid-result test administered by CareNow at the DFW airport. American has not yet said what the in-person tests will cost.
United, Hawaiian, Alaska, and American aren’t the only airlines globally to offer the COVID-19 testing option to passengers. German airline Lufthansa recently said it will begin offering passengers rapid coronavirus tests, too, prior to intercontinental flights in an attempt to get long-haul passengers flying again.
The tests on some Lufthansa flights to the United States are slated to begin in October. They will cost $12.
Emirates pioneered preflight testing in April when it became the first airline in the world to begin testing passengers on-site for COVID-19 prior to departure.
Back in July, the airlines urged the United States and the European Union to quickly restore transatlantic air travel by deploying a joint COVID-19 testing program. The CEOs of United, American Airlines, IAG, and Lufthansa Group wrote in a letter that “given the unquestioned importance of transatlantic air travel to the global economy as well as to the economic recovery of our businesses, we believe it is critical to find a way to reopen air services between the U.S. and Europe.”
They said that a testing program for the transatlantic market could “safely restore passenger travel between the U.S. and Europe.”
That same thinking could be—and now is being—applied to numerous destinations worldwide.
Associated Press contributed reporting. This article was originally published on September 24 and has been updated to include current information.