United Airlines Rolling Out COVID Testing for Its Newark-London Flight Corridor

In a bid to save international travel, the airline will start offering free tests to passengers three days a week

united airlines plane
Would you feel comfortable flying again if everyone was tested at the gate beforehand?
Tim Gouw/Unsplash

Newark Liberty International Airport to London’s Heathrow Airport is one of the most well-traveled flight routes in the world, perennially top five in popularity for transatlantic flights. Although, like any other flight corridor this year, it has been stunningly quiet during the pandemic. Earlier this year, New York-area airports were operating at just 5% of their capacity. At Newark Airport, United Airlines halted all but 15 of its 140 daily flights.

But as the world attempts to climb from the abyss and jumpstart international travel again — even amidst a surging second wave — the spotlight is currently on United Airlines, and Newark Airport, where the airline is about to roll out free COVID-19 tests for passengers traveling the Newark-London corridor.

In case you weren’t aware, Americans can currently fly to the United Kingdom. You just have to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. It’s a bit of a complicated, anxiety-inducing experience (which you can read about in detail here). After all, spending seven hours in an enclosed space with a bunch of strangers is not at the top of CDC guidelines right now. But United Airlines wants to inject some peace of mind into that process.

Between November 11 and December 11, the airline will test passengers over the age of 2 for the coronavirus on “select flights” (three flights a week) from Newark to London. Prospective passengers have to show up earlier than usual to the airport, and schedule an appointment at the specialized testing site in Gate C93. Those who test negative can board the plane, those who test positive have to go home, self-isolate and book a flight for a later date. If you show up and somehow didn’t know about testing, you’re allowed to flex your flight to a later date (even that evening).

If the pilot program works, and United is able to effectively test passengers, retrieve test results, and operate flights, all without major delays or PR crises, don’t be surprised if they roll out COVID testing to other popular flight routes. It’s also possible (considering the copycat nature of the airline industry), that other carriers will hop in and try their hand at programs. The industry’s endgame? Win back the trust of all those reluctant to rely on deep cleanings and face coverings alone, in order to board international travel again. Stay tuned.

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