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United Airlines to be first U.S. airline with COVID-19 testing program for passengers

United launches COVID-19 testing program
United Airlines launches COVID-19 rapid testing program to help manage quarantine requirements 05:05

United Airlines will be the first U.S. airline to roll out a COVID-19 testing program for passengers. Starting October 15, flyers from San Francisco bound for Hawaii will be given the option to order an at-home testing kit or reserve a time for a rapid test at the airport.

"We really see this as a great opportunity to provide access to testing for our customers, to get them back in the air and traveling as safely as possible," Aaron McMillan, United's managing director of operations policy and support, told CBS News transportation correspondent Kris Van Cleave. 

Hawaii has been largely closed to tourists since March, but next month, with proof of a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours prior to arrival, the state will waive its two-week quarantine. Hawaii officials will verify those results as flights come in.

The rapid testing at San Francisco International Airport is already available to airport and airline employees. It takes about 20 minutes from arrival to result and initially will cost $250.

The at-home kit will be $80 plus shipping and go to a San Francisco lab for processing. Flyers will have results within 48 hours.

United hopes to eventually expand testing options to its hubs across the country in cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.  

"Being able to identify a positive case and pull them out of a public health situation and put them in isolation, and then be able to kind of winnow that group of potential infectious individuals is really what's going to have an impact," said Caroline Savello, the chief commercial officer of Color, a company offering COVID-19 testing.

Kennedy Airport in New York City and Newark Airport in New Jersey are working with a private company, XpresCheck, to offer passengers flying any airline a rapid COVID-19 test before departure.

A recent Atmosphere Research survey found three-fourths of flyers support pre-flight coronavirus testing.

United sees this effort as a major step toward reconnecting the U.S. with international travel. Airlines are pushing for "air bridges" between major cities like New York and London that would require pre-flight COVID-19 tests for all on board. 

Flyers who arrive in Hawaii without a test result will have to quarantine for two weeks, or until they have a negative result.

American Airlines is looking at offering tests to passengers. Lufthansa also plans to offer tests to passengers next month, and already has testing centers for arriving passengers in Munich and Frankfurt.

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