United to offer Hawaii-bound passengers coronavirus tests, a possible blueprint for flights abroad

Key Points
  • United plans to offer the tests for Hawaii-bound travelers at San Francisco International Airport as well as a mail-in testing option.
  • Airlines are scrambling to figure out how to test passengers effectively to open up routes that are off limits or require long quarantines.
  • Passengers will be responsible for payment.

In this article

A United Airlines Boeing 777-200 aircraft
Nicolas Economou | NurPhoto | Getty Images

United Airlines will offer some Hawaii-bound customers rapid-response coronavirus tests at the airport, an effort to get around quarantine requirements and eventually, open up more destinations to travelers during the pandemic.

United is the first U.S. airline to offer a Covid-19 testing program. Passengers booked from United's San Francisco hub to Hawaii, one of its most popular destinations, will have that option starting Oct. 15, the airline said Thursday. The date is when Hawaii is scheduled to lift a two-week quarantine requirement on arriving travelers as long as they test negative for Covid-19 within 72 hours of their departure. Passengers will be responsible for payment. Firm pricing is still in the works but the tests will at first cost $250.

The nasal swab tests could later provide an opening for passengers to enter regions that are currently off-limits because of coronavirus concerns. Global airlines this week urged government officials around the world to consider Covid-19 testing for passengers before international flights as an alternative to blanket travel bans that have driven down passenger traffic.

"We are very interested in opening this up to other destinations," Janet Lamkin, United's California president, told CNBC.

The results of the molecular tests, which will be administered by GoHealth Urgent Care and Dignity Health, take about 15 minutes. The tests will be conducted in the international terminal, a site the airport announced last month that at first was for airport employees.

United and Delta Air Lines have rolled out rapid coronavirus tests for their crew members.

The tests at the airport will be conducted prior to security checkpoints. Travelers who test positive for Covid-19 won't be allowed to fly.

United's Hawaii customers from San Francisco can also opt for an $80 mail-in test, offered by Color, which would be conducted at home.

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