In a bid to open up transatlantic travel safely, United Airlines has revealed the details of a new pilot testing program. From November 16 until December 11, the airline will offer free rapid COVID-19 tests to passengers and crew on board select flights from New York/Newark to London Heathrow.

The COVID-19 test will be given to passengers traveling on United Flight 14; departing at 7.15pm Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Customers are required to take the test on-site and must book their appointment in advance and plan to arrive at least three hours before their flight. The test will be free of charge. Mask adherence will still be mandatory on board for all passengers, and customers are required to follow social distancing guidelines.

The test will be available for passengers aged two and over. It's not mandatory. But anyone who does not wish to be tested will be placed on another flight to guarantee that everyone on board will have tested negative for the coronavirus.

While providing proof of a negative test won't allow passengers to bypass the UK's mandatory quarantine requirement, the airline hopes that this pilot program will demonstrate the effectiveness of such a concept and will open up the possibility of it being rolled out later down the line as a quarantine alternative. Passenger feedback from the program will be shared with governments in the US and the UK.

"We believe the ability to provide fast, same-day COVID-19 testing will play a vital role in safely reopening travel around the world and navigating quarantines and travel restrictions, particularly to key international destinations like London,” said Toby Enqvist, chief customer officer for United.

United Airlines pre-flight testing.jpg
United's on-site testing facility in San Francisco International Airport ©United Airlines

The news comes as United rolled out its optional rapid pre-flight COVID testing for customers traveling from San Francisco to Hawaii earlier this month. And just last week, United participated in a successful test program between New York/Newark and London Heathrow of a digital health pass called CommonPass, aimed at kickstarting international travel.

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