As the holidays quickly approach, what would normally be a time of joy and excitement for airline travelers has become a time of worry and concern.

Requiring COVID-19 tests pre-flight could ensure travelers that their co-passengers are virus-free. Indian airline IndiGo, for example, has teamed with Stemz Healthcare to allow COVID-19 RT-PCR testing for both domestic and international travel.

Animesh Kumar, director of travel and tourism and automotive consulting at GlobalData, suggests implementing “negative-only” flights on popular routes during the holiday season.

“Customers in India are postponing their travel plans as they are concerned about getting infected by the virus in the closed environment of an aircraft cabin. If airlines offer rapid antigen tests at the airport and ensure that only those who have tested negative are allowed to board, it will help in elevating the consumer confidence,” Kumar says.

United Airlines will be doing something similar. Beginning Nov. 16, the airline will offer passengers free COVID tests on select flights between Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) in New Jersey and Heathrow Airport (LHR) in London, as part of a four-week program. Administered by Premise Health, the rapid-results tests will be available on United Flight 14, which departs Newark at on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The tests will be available only to fliers departing from Newark, and everyone above the age of two boarding the Heathrow-bound flight will be required to take the test. Passengers who test positive for COVID will be isolated and not allowed to board, and those who do not want to take a test will be required to take a different flight. Despite the testing, passengers will still need to wear a mask while on board, as well as follow the 14-day quarantine rule currently in place in the United Kingdom.

The airline recently launched similar testing on flights to Hawaii, which allowed passengers who tested negative to avoid quarantine upon arrival.. According to United, bookings jumped 95 percent on that route in the first two weeks.


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