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United Airlines to Introduce Free Transatlantic COVID-19 Testing

United Airlines is soon to introduce a free transatlantic COVID-19 testing pilot program for customers. From November 16 through December 11, the airline will offer rapid tests to every passenger over two years old and crew members on board select flights from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to London Heathrow (LHR), free of charge. Anyone who does not wish to be tested will be placed on another flight, guaranteeing everyone on board other than children under two will have tested negative before departure.

“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,” said Toby Enqvist, chief customer officer for United. 

United will share customer feedback of this pilot with governments on both sides of the Atlantic to further demonstrate the effectiveness of these programs as an alternative to mandatory quarantines or duplicative travel restrictions. United has seen a positive impact on travel demand and significant increases in customer load factors and revenue when testing options are available.

United will collaborate with Premise Health, who will administer the rapid testing pilot program for the EWR-LHR flight. The test will be given to passengers traveling on United Flight 14, departing at 7:15 p.m., Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Appointments for the test are required, and customers are advised to schedule their tests at least three hours before their flight. An on-site testing facility will be located at the Newark United Club near Gate C93. 

Travelers are reminded to check restrictions in their destination country. For example, England will commence a four-week lockdown from November 5, which will see all but essential businesses temporarily closed.

United was the first airline to announce optional pre-flight COVID-19 testing for customers. Earlier this month, the airline started offering customers traveling from San Francisco International Airport to Hawaii the option to take a same-day, pre-flight rapid test at the airport or a conveniently located drive-through test, for a fee. The program allows customers with a negative result to bypass Hawaii’s mandatory quarantine requirements and enjoy their time on the islands sooner. In the first 10 days, October 15 – 25, the San Francisco to Hawaii flights have seen a nearly 95% increase in passengers compared to the prior two-week period. United believes these positive trends illustrate a strong and pent-up demand for travel, customers’ willingness to use pre-flight COVID-19 testing and the importance of these programs as a means of opening borders.

And just last week, United participated in a successful test program between New York/Newark and London of CommonPass, a digital health pass, aimed at enabling safer travel and the reopening of international borders. Customers who chose to participate in the program were able to provide their COVID-19 test results to relevant governments.

In September, the airline announced it will apply Zoono Microbe Shield, an EPA registered antimicrobial coating that forms a long-lasting bond with surfaces and inhibits the growth of microbes, to its entire mainline and express fleet before the end of the year.

Transportation providers, be they airlines, airports or sea and surface travel providers, have shown incredible adaptability, innovation, and quick action throughout the pandemic – as have the businesses supplying them. This resilience will be needed to maintain operations ready for a return to maximum traveler numbers.

Read more about the testing program at United

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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