United Airlines on Thursday announced the world’s first 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 2 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. “Through this pilot program, we’ll guarantee that everyone* on board has tested negative for COVID-19, adding another element to our layered approach to safety. United will continue to lead on testing, while at the same time exploring new solutions that contribute to the safest travel experience possible.”
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.
Before the pandemic, United operated six daily flights between New York/Newark and London on a 767-300ER (76L), offering not only the most frequency among U.S. carriers but also the most business class and Premium Economy seats.
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 seamlessly provide their COVID-19 test results to relevant governments.
Since the start of the pandemic, United has been a leader among U.S. airlines in enacting new policies and innovations designed to keep employees and passengers safer when traveling. It was the first U.S. airline to mandate masks for flight attendants, quickly following with all customers and employees. United was also among the first U.S. carriers to announce it would not permit customers who refused to comply with the airline’s mandatory mask policy to fly with them while the face mask policy is in place.
United was also the first U.S. airline to roll out touchless check-in for customers with bags and the first to require passengers to take an online health assessment before traveling. And last month, 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.