Airlines to start offering COVID-free flights and testing

Airlines are trying out COVID-free flights to see if they can convince consumers that it’s safe to travel by air. One program has gotten underway, and another will be starting later this month.

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The first COVID-free flight

CNN reports that the inaugural COVID-free flight was United Airlines flight 14 from Newark to London's Heathrow Airport. The COVID-free flight is the first in a trial by United Airlines that will last four weeks. Under the terms of the trial, passengers and crew must take a COVID-19 test before they board the airplane.

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The test takes place right after check-in. Passengers go through security and then go to the gate and the testing facility at the Newark United Club. They enter, give their name and answer basic medical questions. A nurse then does the nasal swab. It takes about 15 minutes to go through the screening, and the results of the test are printed immediately.

Passengers on the COVID-free flights are asked to arrive hours early to allow time for the test. They sign up for a 15-minute window ahead of time, so it's easy to work the test into the check-in process. United will be offering COVID-free flights across the Atlantic three times a week. The hope is that the flights will restore the air connection between London and New York, which is usually one of the busiest international long-haul routes in the world.

Airlines test out flights with COVID-19 testing

In a separate program, American Airlines and British Airways are offering free COVID-19 testing for some travelers on trans-Atlantic flights. According to CNBC, the two airlines will start offering the testing on flights to London from New York, Dallas/ Fort Worth and Los Angeles.

Passengers will be able to volunteer to take three tests under the trial program. One of the tests is done at home before departure, one is done upon arrival at London Heathrow Airport, and the third is sent to the passenger after they arrive at their destination. Oneworld, which is funded by American Airlines, British Airways and other airlines, will pay for the coronavirus tests.

Airlines are calling on regulators to think about accepting negative COVID-19 tests instead of travel bans or extended quarantine periods following travel. The air travel industry has been devastated by those requirements, and several airlines are starting to offer coronavirus testing programs to help increase demand.