United rolling out free Covid-19 testing

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United is introducing free Covid-19 testing on select flights between Newark and London Heathrow.
United is introducing free Covid-19 testing on select flights between Newark and London Heathrow.

United will provide free rapid Covid-19 tests for passengers booked on select flights between Newark and London Heathrow from Nov. 16 through Dec. 11.

The carrier is billing the pilot testing program as the first in the world to offer free Covid tests for flyers crossing the Atlantic. It will be the latest milestone for United as it and other transatlantic airlines continue to push for widespread testing as an alternative to quarantines and border closures.

“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,” Toby Enqvist, chief customer officer for United, explained in a prepared statement Thursday. “Through this pilot program, we’ll guarantee that essentially everyone on board has tested negative for Covid-19.”

The travel giant is pushing governments to permit travelers between New York and London to skip quarantine periods and instead accept the results of rapid testing.

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The program will be trialed Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays for United Flight 14, which departs Newark at 7:15 p.m. All passengers who are more than 2 years old will be required to take the test. Those who chose not to participate will be placed on another flight. 

Thursday’s announcement follows United’s launch on Oct. 15 of fee-for-service rapid Covid-19 tests at San Francisco Airport for Hawaii flyers. Customers who test negative can then present the results to be exempted from Hawaii’s 14-day quarantine requirement for incoming travelers. 

In addition, last week United participated in the first transatlantic test of the digital health program CommonPass, in which certified Covid-19 test results are uploaded onto an app. The app then generates a QR code that airlines and border officials can scan at the time of travel.

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