Can Pre-Flight COVID-19 Testing be the New Norm?

The new normal

Airlines around the world are calling for pre-flight COVID-19 tests to eliminate the need for travel bans and traveler quarantine upon arrival in order to revive an industry destroyed by the pandemic. With an effort to re-assure travelers to reach their destinations safely by providing rapid COVID-19 testing before departure, airlines, airports along with the destinations want to regain traveler confidence and demonstrate a framework for safe travel.

 

In September 2020, IATA put forth the suggestion of a systematic COVID-19 testing as an alternative to quarantine measures for all passengers before departure to revive global air connectivity. The test featured accuracy, speed, affordability, and credibility.

 

 

Our world is going through a unique crisis. As countries re-open their borders, a myriad of traveler quarantine rules and other safety measures have been introduced. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) Testing could help people determine if they are infected with COVID-19, even if they do not show symptoms, while also determining if they are a threat of transmission to spreading the virus to others.

A positive initiative

In September 2020, IATA put forth the suggestion of a systematic COVID-19 testing as an alternative to quarantine measures for all passengers before departure to revive global air connectivity. The test featured accuracy, speed, affordability, and credibility.

According to the IATA report:

  • 65% of travelers said that quarantine should not be required if a traveler tests negative for
    COVID-19
  • 83% of travelers said they won’t fly if they have to quarantine themselves upon arrival
  • 84% of travelers said that all travelers should be tested
  • 88% of travelers agreed to undergo testing as part of their travel journey

IATA specifically called out to the Council Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART), a force aimed at providing practical guidance to industry operators in order to restart international travel. They came to an agreement that carrying out tests before departure in a secure environment would play an important role in addressing travelers’ grievances about other travelers who submit false negative reports and add to the rise in the spread of the virus.

View from the top

United Airlines was the first U.S. airline to launch pre-flight COVID-19 testing for travelers in September. American Airlines and JetBlue followed suit to set up pre-flight testing programs for passengers before departure to places like Hawaii, Costa Rica and Caribbean. “However, a pre-flight test even when given at the security checkpoint, is not a fool proof strategy to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to the passengers destination site,” said Dr. Makeda Robinson, a virologist at Stanford University.

Passenger safety is a top priority for the industry at large. To ensure it stays that way, airports such as Frankfurt, Abu Dhabi, and Italy’s largest airline Alitalia have imposed mandatory COVID-19 testing procedures for travelers prior to their departure or transfers. This could potentially limit travelers from submitting fake negative test certificates in an attempt to declare themselves as fit to fly.

Various reports have emerged of airlines being banned from destinations for flying symptomatic passengers who had submitted fake test reports. Among them, Air India was banned for the fourth time since September from flying to Hong Kong from India as COVID-19 positive fliers had faked their test results to get across the borders. This sparked Hong Kong to only accept travelers who have been tested negative within 72 hours of the journey.

British Airways owner International Airlines Group (IAG) plunged almost €6 billion in the first nine months of the year 2020 as COVID-19 hammered international travel completely. According to IAG, the results for the nine months were impacted to a great extent by the pandemic. Therefore, the decision of adopting pre-flight COVID-19 testing with the option of post-flight testing is said to ease quarantine restrictions on people who arrive from countries with high-infection rates. Thus, stimulating the economy, opening routes and getting people to travel with confidence.

Conclusion

The consequence of not having total control over pre-flight tests will not only hinder the re-opening of countries, it will refrain the travel industry from returning to normalcy. Although pre-flight tests may still not give a 100% guarantee on prevention of transmission, yet the initiative taken to lead people through a safe channel right from their departure to their arrival is certainly a major and a crucial step in the progress to returning to some kind of normalcy. ‘Safety’ being the priority of every travel and tourism company, airline, and airport during these trying times, the suggestion of pre-flight COVID-19 tests put forth by IATA was definitely a big step in an effort to cross the hurdles the pandemic has thrown on the travel and tourism industry.