US carrier United Airlines will launch the first transatlantic Covid-testing pilot on New York-Heathrow flights in November.
United will provide free, pre-departure Covid-19 tests for all passengers on its Flight 14 from Newark which operates three times a week to Heathrow.
The testing trial will start on November 16 and last almost four weeks to December 11.
All passengers over two years old will be required to test negative before departure
Those who decline to be tested will be placed on alternative flights. Anyone testing positive will be required to self-isolate.
United Flight 14 departs Newark for Heathrow at 7:15pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Passengers will be required to make appointments for the tests and be asked to schedule these at least three hours before their flight.
The testing facility will be located at the Newark United Club.
Before the pandemic, United operated six daily flights between New York Newark and Heathrow.
Earlier this month, United began offering passengers flying from San Francisco to Hawaii the option of a pre-flight rapid test at the airport for a fee.
This allowed those with a negative result to bypass Hawaii’s quarantine requirements.
In the first 10 days of testing, United reported traffic on its San Francisco to Hawaii flights increased by almost 95% compared to the previous two weeks.
A United spokesman said: “Early results have been very encouraging. We are bullish on the prospects that customer testing can re-open long-haul travel.”
Aaron McMillan, United managing director for operations policy and support, said: “We’ll be offering rapid tests to every passenger for free. We’ll guarantee that everyone on board has tested and is free of Covid on the day of travel.”
The tests will not be available for passengers flying the other way.
McMillan revealed United’s Newark-Heathrow flights currently carry 50-100 passengers “depending on the day” and said: “We expect numbers to be within that range.”
The airline made clear: “Passengers testing negative will still have to comply with quarantine restrictions in the UK. The tests do not exempt travellers from quarantine restrictions.”
McMillan said: “All passengers will be asked to participate with the exception of children under two. It will be a requirement to all on board to have a negative test result to board.”
He said: “We hope to contribute to reducing quarantine restrictions. We are trying to demonstrate it is safe to facilitate international travel.”
None of the requirements on board the flights will change. Passengers will still be required to social distance and wear face masks.
United was also involved in last week’s trial of Covid health passport CommonPass on a flight from Heathrow to Newark.
McMillan said: “We are continuing discussions with CommonPass. Currently, customers are showing up with a lot of paper documentation so something like CommonPass could be of great benefit.”
United chief customer officer Toby Enqvist said: “The ability to provide fast, same-day Covid-19 testing will play a vital role in safely re-opening travel around the world and navigating quarantines and travel restrictions.”
The carrier said it will share customer feedback from the pilot “with governments on both sides of the Atlantic to demonstrate the effectiveness of these programmes as an alternative to mandatory quarantines”.
The trial will use a rapid molecular Abbott ID Now Covid-19 test administered by Premise Health.