Why Aren’t U.S. Airlines Testing Passengers For COVID-19?

COVID-19 testing at airports
Credit: Ina Fassbender/AFP/Getty Images

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Why haven’t any U.S. airlines tried COVID testing for all passengers before they board? Wouldn’t more people be flying if they knew every other passenger had been tested?

Air Transport World Editor-in-Chief Karen Walker answers:

The problems with airport onsite COVID tests are multifold. Current tests take hours to process, which poses the problem of having people wait somewhere until the results come through. Hong Kong Airport has been doing this for all arriving passengers for some months, but that means passengers must sit in the adjacent convention center for hours after their flight. Many airports do not have a viable “waiting room,” and many passengers would not accept waiting that long, especially for a short domestic flight, which is the majority of travel that U.S. passengers are taking.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is calling for a system that would allow a passenger to get a test done 72 hr. ahead of their flight. But the testing would need to be widely available, reliable, approved by all regulatory authorities involved and as non-intrusive as possible. These criteria are not yet available.

Then there’s the question of verifying that the test result belongs to the passenger who presents it at the airport/airline. And there is no agreement on who should pay.

IATA is hopeful that a testing system that would fit the criteria will become available soon, maybe this fall, and it will likely be a next step ahead of any vaccine.

Karen Walker

Karen Walker is Air Transport World Editor-in-Chief and Aviation Week Network Group Air Transport Editor-in-Chief. She joined ATW in 2011 and oversees the editorial content and direction of ATW, Routes and Aviation Week Group air transport content.