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—and one airport is even giving those tests free of charge.

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 causing results to be delayed by a week or more in some places, 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 launches October 15 and will be available for passengers flying from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Hawaii. 

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. Cost and availability vary by airline.

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.

Related: How to Properly Disinfect Your Airplane Seat


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 are currently in operation at JFK and Newark, and will soon expand to Boston Logan International Airport.

Looking to save some money? Consider flying out of Oakland International Airport (OAK) which recently announced that they would be offering free, rapid-result COVID-19 testing to Hawaii-bound passengers. Passengers can visit the airport for their test up to 72 hours before their flight, or show up at least three hours early for their departing flight to get one on the same day.

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 (for example, Alaska airports will offer free testing to Alaska residents, but visitors will be charged $250). 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.

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