United Airlines will offer coronavirus tests at San Francisco International Airport to help passengers travel to Hawaii without having to quarantine.
United said the testing program is a pilot, and suggested it could be expanded for other airports and destinations.
Experts do not expect travel demand to fully recover until a vaccine is available and widely distributed, but have said that rapid testing offers a way to make travel safer and more practical in the interim.
United is introducing a new airport coronavirus testing procedure make flying to Hawaii more appealing, with the hope that this kind of program could salvage the already grim 2021 travel season.
Starting October 15, the airline will offer passengers flying from San Francisco to the archipelago state the chance to take a COVID-19 test before takeoff, so those with negative results don't have to quarantine when they touch down on the sand.
Hawaii has been requiring all out-of-state travelers to quarantine for 14 days, but on October 15 will begin waiving that mandate for anyone who tests negative for the virus, no more than 72 hours before their flight arrives.
United's program will offer two options for passengers headed for Hawaii, neither of them cheap.
Tests at the airport will be administered by GoHealth Urgent Care, which has been testing United's international flight crews at San Francisco since July. For $250, the company will test Hawaii-bound passengers each day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., whose results are available within about 15 minutes. Passengers can make an appointment online to avoid having to wait on a line at the airport. (That price may drop as capacity increases. It was not clear whether health insurance will cover it.)
Passengers can also opt for an $80 (plus shipping) at-home, mail-in test from a company called Color. United will email passengers 10 days before their flight with a link to purchase a testing kit. Passengers can collect their own samples 72 hours before traveling, and return the test via overnight mail or to a drop box at the airport.
Results from Color are available within 24 to 48 hours, so if a passenger returns their sample at the airport, there's a chance they will have to quarantine in Hawaii for a day or two until their results become available.
Depending on how the program goes, United could expand its reach, saying this kind of testing "could make it easier for [travelers] to manage quarantine requirements and entry conditions of popular destinations around the world."
Borders around the world remain largely closed or restricted as countries try to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Travel demand for US airlines is down 70% compared to the same time last year, and most of the current demand is for domestic flights.
Experts largely believe that mass testing is the only effective way to prompt travel to return until there is a widely distributed vaccine. However, limited testing capacity and long waits for results have largely hindered widespread use for a travel context within the US.
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