Would you like to upgrade your seat, purchase a checked bag, or add on a COVID-19 test to your ticket? Certain airlines and airports are hoping to lure back skittish passengers by offering preflight COVID-19 tests.
Many destinations, both domestic and international, are requiring visitors to quarantine for 14-days or show proof of a negative COVID-19 test to enter. The catch: the test must have been taken 72 hours before arrival. With testing backlogs that can cause delayed results, flyers risk getting turned away at the gate if they don’t have their negative test results in hand in time.
So airlines and airports have stepped in with a solution, offering testing to ticketed passengers that's designed to get results in time for boarding.
United Airlines was the first American airline to announce plans to offer COVID-19 testing for travelers. Their pilot program launched on October 15, 2020, available for passengers flying from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Hawaii. The service has since expanded to encompass several domestic and international routes, information on which can be found on their site.
Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, and JetBlue all quickly followed with testing programs of their own at various airports and for a range of destinations. Since then, many domestic and international airlines have followed suit. Cost and availability vary by airline, so check ahead of time to see what testing services your carrier offers. Also be sure to check the rules of your destination before you sign up for one of these COVID-19 tests, as some places require a PCR test and will not accept other types.
Many airlines are implementing health passports to help passengers manage test results and other health information required for travel. VeriFLY, for instance, is a health passport app already in use by American Airlines, British Airways, Iberia, and Alaska Airlines. Find it on the Apple and Google Play Store.
Testing options continue to expand, and it's not unreasonable to think pre-flight COVID-19 testing may just be another step in the boarding process in the future. For example, have you ever treated yourself to a pre-flight massage at one of the ubiquitous airport XpresSpas? Now you can splurge on a somewhat less-relaxing experience as the company has pivoted and launched XpresCheck, a chain of COVID-19 testing centers that began in JFK and Newark and has since expanded to 13 locations across the United States.
Many other airports are jumping on the bandwagon and offering a variety of test options to any flyer that wants one, no matter what the destination. Prices vary depending on the airport and type of test. The list of airports offering testing is changing daily, so be sure to check the website for your departure airport to see what they offer and if an appointment is required. In accordance with the CDC's recent relaxation of COVID-19 testing regulations for international travel, travelers can also now complete their COVID-19 test at home, provided that the testing kit meets certain regulations.
What If I'm Vaccinated?
As vaccines continue to roll out across the country, the safest ways to travel are being redefined once again. According to the CDC’s page on international travel, travelers do not need to get tested before leaving the United States (unless required by their destination) and do not need to self-quarantine upon their return. However, travelers are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result within 3 days of their return to the United States and are encouraged to get tested again 3-5 days after returning home.
Traveling domestically? As of April 2, 2021, the CDC has declared that “fully vaccinated people can resume domestic travel and do not need to get tested before or after travel or self-quarantine after travel." Be aware that different areas of the United States are operating under different COVID-19 precautions. Research your destination before going to familiarize yourself with local policies. Check out the When You've Been Fully Vaccinated and Domestic Travel Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People pages on the CDC site for further information and recommendations.