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These United flights will soon have free passenger COVID tests (but only for a short time)

United Airlines will add a trial of free passenger COVID tests for flights in London.

United Airlines planes are parked at gates at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J., Wednesday, July 1, 2020.
United Airlines planes are parked at gates at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J., Wednesday, July 1, 2020.
Seth Wenig, Associated Press

United Airlines said Thursday it plans to add free pre-flight COVID-19 tests in November for travelers flying to London.

  • The trial will run from Nov. 16 to Dec. 11.
  • It will be on flights from Newark, New Jersey, to London’s Heathrow Airport.
  • United Airlines will pay the cost for the rapid molecular Abbott ID Now tests, which will be distributed on Monday, Wednesday and Friday flights.
  • Passengers who don’t want to receive a test can opt out and be moved to separate flights.
  • The point is to guarantee “everyone on board other than children under 2 will have tested negative before departure,” United said in a release.

The bigger picture

United and other airlines have struggled to find the right way to keep the travel business alive during the coronavirus pandemic. Health guidelines remain different across airlines. There’s no simple or specific way for airlines to handle the crisis.

  • Carriers have shifted their view toward pre-flight COVID-19 testing, hoping that the tests will reduce quarantine periods and restrictions from various states, according to CNBC.

A group of trade groups — that represents American Airlines, Boeing, Marriott and labor unions — wrote to the Trump administration last week that the current rules don’t encourage people to take flights..

  • “This patchwork of rules is confusing and discourages travel,” the group said. “Furthermore, there are alternatives to quarantines, such as testing and screening of passengers at or ahead of departure, that can significantly reduce the risk of importation of COVID-19 and may actually be more effective due to the difficulties in enforcing compliance with quarantine requirements.”