Several Airlines Add COVID-19 Testing Options to help travelers feel more at ease when taking to the sky
Flying right now can be a jumble of emotions. Excitement because it seems that we might be getting nuggets of “normalcy” back. Fear because we’re in closed and close quarters with a bunch of strangers we know nothing about. Aprehension because flights are either really empty or a little too full for our liking. And so many more.
We recently took our first flight since March. In fact my last flight was two days before Colorado went into “quarantine”. I left a work conference on a Friday in March and while I was sitting in the terminal headed back to Denver, every single news channel was talking about how the country was on a verge of a shutdown and panic was setting in along with a lot of confusion.
Our recent flight was from Denver to Orlando. We typically take an early morning flight when headed to Orlando but our “usual” flight was not available. So, we took a flight a couple hours later. When we got to the airport, it was empty.
We flew Southwest which is what we fly 90% of the time. Denver is a hub for Southwest and at a time when the airport would normally be teeming with business travelers and families, there were only a few brave souls.
The Plan For The Planes
What are some new tactics airlines are looking at to bring people back to the friendly skies?
According to some experts, it will likely be years before the travel industry is thriving as it was before the pandemic.
The thought of being stuck in a small enclosed space, with recycled air is pretty scary to a number of people during a pandemic. In addition, millions of Americans are on unemployment and are unsure of the direction their careers will take as the pandemic drags on. Travel is not a priority for a a lot of people right now.
Between the fear and the financials, the airline industry is suffering. The travel industry in general is suffering. Which is not a good thing for the city and state economies who depend on that revenue.
Some airlines are either independently or in partnership with high tourism areas, providing Covid-19 testing to travelers. Other airlines are on the hunt for vaccination-related business opportunities.
Incorporating Covid-19 Testing Into Travel
In the US, airlines including United, American Airlines, and Hawaiian Airlines are offering options for Covid-19 testing to passengers traveling to the state of Hawaii.
With a negative test result, travelers will be exempt from the state’s two-week quarantine requirements for new arrivals.
A similar program is in the works for American Airlines. They are looking to implement a similar program for some people traveling to Jamaica and Costa Rica.
According to Aaron McMillan, United Airlines’ operations policy and support managing director, the airline wouldn’t keep records of a traveler’s personal health information. However, United would get notified from a testing partner “that said customer wouldn’t be able to travel that day” and the airline “would make the necessary arrangements,”.
International travelers have already seen in-airport tests. Some airports in the United States like Tampa International Airport and Oakland Airport have opened Covid-19 testing sites of their own. More are planning to join.
XpresSpa, a company that normally provides in-terminal spa treatments for travelers, announced that, they will begin offering Covid-19 tests at some airports. The tests will cost between $75 and $200 depending on the type of test. Appointments and walk-ins are accepted.
In addition, XpresSpa has also said they are involved in discussions with “health passport apps” and looking into creating air bridges between specific cities.
The Transportation Security Administration has also made some changes. Instead of a human officer confirming the validity of someone’s identification card, TSA is now piloting a self-service checkpoint using a biometrics-based algorithm designed to confirm that a live photo of a person matches their ID.
Clear, which allows customers to bypass security lines has started to offer Health Pass. This is a biometric-based way of tracking peoples’ health status that was used, notably, to help conduct the National Hockey League playoffs in Canada. Clear has recently announced they will integrate Covid-19 test lab results from LabCorp and Quest into Health Pass.
The Future of Flying
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has issued guidance for air travel, estimated last month that close to 11,000 people were exposed to Covid-19 on flights, according to the Washington Post.
According to the Mayo Clinic notes, airplanes have sophisticated air filtration systems that can limit the spread of the virus, but airports and contact with other passengers throughout the airport and travel process increases the risk of exposure and spread.
Some airports have been visibly flexing their sanitation muscles by upping their procedures and doing so in a very visible manner.
The Australian company Elenium, for instance, has debuted contactless Covid-19 airport kiosks that can hear peoples’ voices and respond to their head movements. These kiosks are now installed in airports in the Middle East, the US, and Australia.
Many experts expect contactless procedures to increase throughout the entire flying process.