Rapid tests com­ing to United Air­lines

Com­pany launches pi­lot pro­gram on Hawaii trips

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - Jayme Deer­wester

United Air­lines says it will roll out a new COVID-19 test­ing pro­gram for pas­sen­gers begin­ning Oct. 15, the Chicago-based car­rier an­nounced Thurs­day.

At first, test­ing will only be avail­able for pas­sen­gers trav­el­ing to Hawaii from San Fran­cisco In­ter­na­tional Air­port. Why Hawaii? The air­line, the first in the U.S. to of­fer rapid test­ing, has more flights to the state than any other U.S. car­rier, and the Aloha State’s new test­ing re­quire­ments be­gins the same day as United’s.

Pas­sen­gers will have the choice of tak­ing a rapid test from Ab­bott Labs at the air­port the day of their flight with re­sults avail­able in about 15 min­utes or us­ing a mail-in test at home prior to travel. Those opt­ing for the at-home test are ad­vised to re­quest the test kit 10 days prior to travel and sub­mit their sam­ple within 72 hours of their flight.

Trav­el­ers will have to take the test within 72 hours be­fore their flight ar­rives in the is­lands in or­der to by­pass the state’s strictly en­forced 14-day quar­an­tine. Both tests will al­low trav­el­ers to sat­isfy the 72-hour win­dow re­quired by Hawaii’s new test­ing pro­gram. If all goes well, United hopes to ex­pand test­ing to other cities by year’s end.

“Our new COVID test­ing pro­gram is an­other way we are help­ing cus­tomers meet their des­ti­na­tions’ en­try re­quire­ments, safely and con­ve­niently,” Toby En­qvist, the air­line’s chief cus­tomer of­fi­cer, said in a news re­lease. “We’ll look to quickly ex­pand cus­tomer test­ing to other des­ti­na­tions and U.S. air­ports later this year.”

Air­lines and trade groups have been call­ing on the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to es­tab­lish a fed­eral test­ing pro­gram and re­quire pas­sen­gers to wear masks since this sum­mer. All ma­jor U.S. air­lines now have their own mask poli­cies in place.

United CEO Scott Kirby was one of the sig­na­to­ries of a July 21 letter that called on gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials in the U.S. and Euro­pean Union to es­tab­lish a joint COVID-19 test­ing pro­gram to fa­cil­i­tate the re­turn of in­ter­na­tional air travel, a lu­cra­tive sec­tor of the travel economy.

“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,” the group of air­line lead­ers wrote to Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, the head of the U.S. COVID-19 task force, and Ylva Jo­hans­son, Euro­pean com­mis­sioner for home af­fairs. “No­body will ben­e­fit from a pro­longed clo­sure of this most in­dis­pens­able cor­ri­dor for global avi­a­tion.”

This month, the U.S. Travel As­so­ci­a­tion trade group praised the air­lines for help­ing lead the ef­fort for test­ing.

“We ap­plaud the U.S. air­lines for their ef­forts to move this is­sue for­ward, and we will con­tinue to ad­vo­cate for greater fed­eral in­volve­ment in COVID-19 test­ing,” Tori Emer­son Barnes, a spokes­woman for the U.S. Travel As­so­ci­a­tion, said this month.

“We have long main­tained that test­ing is the key to both safer travel and re­open­ing the economy,” Barnes noted. “More rapid, ef­fi­cient test­ing al­lows for a broader re­open­ing of the travel economy, and will en­able or­ga­ni­za­tions to more quickly re­store lost jobs and re­hire work­ers. Im­por­tantly, a ro­bust test­ing pro­gram would al­low Amer­ica to wel­come back in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors.”

Air travel from Europe and the United King­dom has been idle since Pres­i­dent Trump in­sti­tuted a travel ban in March. And al­though the Euro­pean Union be­gan re­open­ing its bor­ders in early July, the USA’s high COVID-19 in­fec­tion rate has kept it on the re­stricted list.


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