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Rapid COVID Testing and the Changing Face of Air Travel

What to expect from air travel during and after a global pandemic? From mandatory health screening use of masks to pre-flight temperature checks and proof of vaccine.

December 1, 2020

When COVID-19 unexpectedly struck at the beginning of the year, it left the world and many industries in complete turmoil. It was the travel industry that has faced the maximum brunt of the pandemic. 

At early stage, most countries’ first step was to shut down their borders, limiting international air travel. Those traveling had to undergo two weeks of mandatory quarantine upon arrival, restricting their movements and some regions brought the business travel and leisure industry to a complete halt. 

However, with growing economic needs and a better understanding of the virus, there has been a slow and steady revival of air travel recently. 

Measures to Revive Air Travel

During the last few months, governments, health professionals, and airlines have worked with each other to create guidelines that decrease the chances of COVID infections when flying. 

To encourage travel and hopefully boost tourism, several nations, for example India and the Maldives, have formed special travel air bubbles that remove the need for quarantine, while still enforcing continuous health checks before departure and after arrival. 

An excellent option for holidaymakers eager to leave their homes after months of confinement, air bubbles haven’t been entirely useful for business travelers who often visit different countries during a single trip.

With the Global Business Travel Association earlier predicting that spending on business travel would have reached $ 1.6 trillion this year, there is no doubt that business travelers are an integral part of the industry. 

Therefore, airports and airlines have now taken pro-active steps to reduce risks by coming up with faster and novel testing options that permit safe travel during COVID.

Rapid COVID Testing

Presently, most countries and airlines require passengers to undergo a COVID test 72 hours before flying. Suitable for tourists heading to a single destination, taking a test in advance is a challenge for busy business travelers especially when covering multiple countries per trip.

To make it more convenient for all travelers, airlines are starting to offer rapid COVID testing to passengers moments before their flights.  

Emirates was one of the early initiators back in April when it started “on-site COVID testing” for its commuters leaving Dubai. However, it is pertinent to note that rapid testing is in addition to general safeguards such as disinfecting the aircraft after every flight and passengers wearing face masks.  

Recently, United Airlines became the first in the U.S. to offer a rapid COVID test for its customers flying from San Francisco to Hawaii. The pre-flight COVID examination, which takes 15 minutes to give a positive or negative result, is optional, with passengers paying extra for the service. 

If successful, business travelers will have access to testing facilities through the airline at the last minute, safeguarding their health and reducing the hassle of getting tests done beforehand.

Most importantly, it will eliminate any quarantine requirements, a significant factor stopping travel during COVID. For instance, a passenger can take a rapid test via United, and if negative, will no longer have to undergo the 14-day quarantine upon arrival, otherwise a prerequisite in Hawaii.  

Following a similar plan, Lufthansa also announced they would offer business and first-class passengers a COVID antigens test across Germany starting October. Furthermore, the airline hopes to open testing centers in some U.S. and Canadian airports.

Post-COVID Business Travel

It was after the tragic events of September 11, 2001 that the airline industry, for the first time, went through a massive overhaul. Until then, flying was an exciting adventure where children could walk into the cockpit to meet the pilot mid-flight, or business travelers would arrive at the airport minutes before takeoff and still manage to get on board.

The events of September 11 resulted in heightened security measures at airports, delays, and extreme precautions. Today, after nearly 20-years, travelers are often still required to remove their shoes and belts for security checks and can only carry limited amounts of liquids in their handbags.  

Post COVID-19, one can expect a similar state to become the norm for all future travels. Even after a vaccine is out in the market and the flu is under control, airlines will likely require health checks before allowing passengers to board their flights. From mandatory use of masks to pre-flight temperature checks and proof of vaccine might become a fundamental part of flying. 

Keeping a close watch on travel’s changing nature. Business travel tech startups are planning to include health protocol guidelines into their travel solution software. Staying organized and caring for employee’s health, an all-in-one business travel solution like SoldoutNight allows companies to monitor itineraries, share critical COVID updates and keeping a watch on their traveler’s movements to help in any emergency. 

Rapid COVID testing by airlines is an excellent step towards normalizing travel. With companies integrating travel solutions into their portfolios, business travelers will once again be able to fly securely with peace of mind.