United Will Offer Free, Mandatory Covid Testing On Some Of Its Newark-London Flights

United has a way for everyone to have confidence that travel is safe from the virus – test everyone on the plane before departure – and believes this can open up travel as well as bring back passengers. So they’re offering it free as a trial on several Newark – London flights that customers can choose to book. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Travel restrictions between New York and London reportedly could be relaxed by Thanksgiving with preflight testing.

United Airlines is trialing preflight testing for Newark – London flights, and making it free from November 16 through December 11.

  • Everyone over 2 will be rapid tested
  • This is required – anyone who doesn’t want to be tested will have to take a different flight.

This testing will be done on United flight UA14 (the 7:15 p.m. departure, the only current non-stop they’re flying) on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

A spokesperson explains to me,

Customers who book on United.com will soon be notified at the time of booking if the flight they select is part of this trial. At the time of booking, customers will have the option to confirm their willingness to participate in the trial or be accommodated on another flight.

United’s Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday flights along with other routings are among the options for passengers who do not wish to be tested. Previously booked customers and those who don’t book on United.com are being contacted by customer care ahead of the flight.

Passengers need to make appointments for the free test and the airline says this should be scheduled “at least three hours before their flight” which makes some sense but is unfortunate because the airport doesn’t have the hospital-grade air filtration that planes do. More time in an indoor congregant setting works at cross-purposes from the testing regime (only people on your flight are being tested, not everyone in the airport). The testing location will be at the C93 United Club.

The airline views this as a test and they say they’ll “share customer feedback of this pilot with governments on both sides of the Atlantic” to work towards testing as an alternative to quarantine or travel bans. That this is just a test suggests to me that Christmas is more likely than Thanksgiving for really opening the NyLon market.

I’ve been writing for months that testing could give governments confidence to open borders, and everyone knowing that everyone else on their flight has been tested can give passengers confidence to travel.

It’s strange to suggest a travel bubble between New York and London in a way since

  1. Unless otherwise restricted, passengers could connect to New York to begin their journey
  2. London is no longer ‘Covid safe’ indeed even with the virus surging in the U.S. many parts of American now have less spread than the U.K. does.
  3. Both here and in the U.K. the virus is rapidly spreading anyway, keeping incremental passengers with the virus out doesn’t likely change the public health trajectory at all.

Still, starting small may be necessary but the real win will come from scaling this.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Hope this works out. Would really like to see UAL expand this for travel within the US.
    Especially flights to Hawaii. The hoops that have to be jumped through, currently, makes it not a fun place to visit. (JMHO)

  2. @gary – I dislike airport testing because vs pre-trip testing because it becomes a lottery for who’s travel will get ruined for no reason. Antigen tests have between a 0.5-1% false positive rate, meaning a 787-10 flying EWR-LHR will statistically deny 1-2 passengers EVERY DAY for no reason, stranding them in Newark (assuming they are transiting like most passengers) with no way to fly home until a PCR clears them 3 days later. This is crazy for asymptomatic passengers. This constant and significant disruption is not worth the tiny benefit of reducing already insignificant transmission from masked passengers (because even if everyone tests negative they’ll still make them wear masks) on an airplane.

  3. @Gary – more importantly, does the NYLON travel corridor and COVID pretest suggest that quarantine period is not necessary upon arrival in London? If so, I would certainly connect from AUS to EWR to LON.

  4. Does this mean that anyone can now book flights to London? I have some upgrades that are expiring and don’t want to waste them domestically……

  5. The Abbott’s ID Now rapid molecular test system is very controversial due to a relatively high rate of false negatives and , I believe, is not accepted by many countries as it is not a PCR test.

  6. @ Francis Rath: the Abbott ID-Now IS a PCR test. There are questions about it’s accuracy – but it is a PCR test.

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