Does the future of travel include airport COVID-19 testing?

The pandemic has changed travel as we know it. Airports around the world are working hard to sanitize their facilities, in some cases using robots to deliver masks or automate cleaning, and of course enforcing social distancing throughout the flying experience.

As airlines continue to adapt to COVID-19, the aviation industry is calling for another method to help bring back travel, besides restrictions: antigen tests for all departing international passengers. A solution such as this would require global agreement since most countries have their own protocols and restrictions, and would need to ensure any pre-departure results are accepted by the destination country.

One airline that is leading in these efforts is Lufthansa. Besides utilizing touchless tech and enforcing cleaning standards, the airline has implemented a COVID-19 testing and vaccination strategy, making 59-Euro testing easily available at Frankfurt Airport.

Lufthansa COVID-19 testing center in Frankfurt
A Covid-19 test conducted at Lufthansa’s Frankfurt Airport testing center. Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Lufthansa Group

The center at Frankfurt Airport launched right before summer and started with a capacity of 5,000 tests per day but have now ramped up to 20,000 tests a day. According to Bjoern Becker, Senior Director for Product Management in Lufthansa’s ground & digital services function, currently they’re only using around 5,000–10,000 tests for travelers and returning travelers. Becker adds, “In the Frankfurt testing center we can prove that we have broken more than 1,500 infection chains since we started testing.” Test results are delivered to the passenger via a secure digital platform and connected to their ticket. This also provides secured clearance for passengers flying to countries with entrance restrictions. To date, the center has conducted over 150,000 tests and will soon open another in Düsseldorf with expansion plans to the US and Canada.

In the US, United Airlines has been the first to extend COVID-19 testing passengers flying from San Francisco to Hawaii starting October 15. Tampa Bay International Airport announced their plans to start offering onsite COVID-19 testing for all passengers. The testing will be available on a walk-in basis in October and the pilot program will be available to all ticketed passengers or those who have flown within three days (with proof of travel). As a growing market for international travel, this move is no surprise.

The International Air Transport Association is also urging governments to develop and deploy easy and scalable COVID-19 testing to all passengers before their departures as an alternative to quarantine measures. It’s important to note that antigen tests have not yet been validated for immigration use, but as we slowly understand the causes and effects of the virus, standards will also need to evolve from different sectors including public health and immigration authorities.

If COVID-19 testing was made available at your airport, would you feel more comfortable traveling?

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