United to Make Rapid Covid-19 Tests Available to Travelers

Flyers are responsible for the cost

airport gates labeled with united airlines
United Airlines is the world's third largest airline. Getty Images

United Airlines has launched a pilot program that gives its customers access to a rapid Covid-19 test before boarding a flight.

Starting on Oct. 15, United passengers flying from San Francisco International Airport to Hawaii will have the option of taking a rapid test at the airport. The test, made by Abbott and supplied by a third party, provides results in 15 minutes, giving travelers the ability to know their health status immediately. If successful, United said it will look to expand the program.

Travelers who test negative and arrive in Hawaii will be able to skip the state’s 14-day mandatory quarantine. Although travelers are responsible for paying for the test, which costs $250 (United expects this to fall as travel demand returns), the convenience of the service could be a game-changer for the airline, whose business has been decimated by the pandemic. In Q2, United’s revenue was down 87% year-over-year.

Travelers who test positive won’t be allowed to board.

Rapid testing is (obviously) not just pertinent to airlines. Earlier this week, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian submitted findings to the CDC on how the cruise lines could continue to serve customers safely during the pandemic. The report, prepared by a panel that included health experts, found that testing before embarkation was the “single most important step” to reduce the risk of an outbreak.

“Our new Covid testing program is another way we are helping customers meet their destinations’ entry requirements, safely and conveniently,” said Toby Enqvist, chief customer officer at United, in a statement. “We’ll look to quickly expand customer testing to other destinations and U.S. airports later this year to complement our state-of-the-art cleaning and safety measures that include a mandatory mask policy, antimicrobial and electrostatic spraying, and our hospital-grade Hepa air filtration systems.”

United is also supplying a self-collected, mail-in test ($80, which also must be paid by passengers) that the airline suggests passengers take 10 days prior to their trip.

@RyanBarwick ryan.barwick@adweek.com Ryan is a brand reporter covering travel, mobility and sports marketing.