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The first passengers to join United Airlines’ free coronavirus testing pilot program will depart Newark, New Jersey for London on Monday evening as airlines still affected by the COVID-19 pandemic attempt to do that to restore transatlantic travel.
United Flight 14 takes off from Newark Liberty International Airport and is expected to land at Heathrow Airport in London around 6:55 a.m. local time on Tuesday.
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UNITED TO PROVIDE FREE CORONAVIRUS TESTS FOR SOME LONDON-RELATED TRAVELERS
United’s program kicks off just a month after reports surfaced that U.S. officials are considering opening trips between New York City and London with reduced quarantine times for travelers while on vacation.
As part of its efforts to revitalize the ailing industry, the airline is offering rapid tests to every crew member and passenger over two years on select Newark to Heathrow flights through December 11th.
Passengers traveling on Flight 14, which departs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 7.15 p.m. CET, will receive the rapid tests that are carried out by Premise Health before departure.
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Passengers who do not wish to be tested will be put on an alternate flight to ensure that everyone – except children under 2 – tested negative before departure, the airline said earlier.
A United Airlines pilot wears a face mask as he walks to a gate at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston on Sunday, May 24, 2020. (AP Photo / David J. Phillip)
United’s chief customer officer, Toby Enqvist, said that same day that test protocol will play a “critical role” in reopening travel around the world and in “navigating quarantines and travel restrictions.”
Enquivst said these tests will be especially important for international destinations like London. Prior to the pandemic, United said it operated six daily flights between the New York and London area.
United, like Delta and American, relies on business and international travelers for much of its revenue.
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Scott Kirby, United CEO, previously noted that business travel is the company’s “bread and butter”.
Monday’s flight marks the first major effort to bypass international quarantine restrictions as the industry tries to weather the pandemic.
However, just a month earlier, the airline was also one of the first to announce optional pre-flight COVID-19 testing for customers traveling from California to Hawaii.
United and Hawaiian Airlines have started pre-boarding testing of certain passengers to help them manage quarantine mandates – and in certain cases avoid quarantine times altogether – in an effort to increase passenger demand.
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For the first 10 days of the United program, October 15-25, flights from San Francisco to Hawaii saw passengers increase by nearly 95% compared to the previous two-week period, United said.
“These positive trends show strong and pent-up demand for travel, customer willingness to use pre-flight COVID-19 tests, and the importance of these programs as a means of opening borders,” United said in a statement last month .
However, the airline faces many obstacles as it continues to recover.
Chicago-based United began taking 13,000 workers off leave on October 1, and several thousand other employees were taking severance packages to leave voluntarily.
The airline has cut flights more aggressively than some of its closest competitors to balance costs with dramatically lower ticket sales. And United is borrowing billions of dollars from the federal government and private lenders to help weather the pandemic. The airline ended September with $ 19.4 billion in cash.
While a full recovery in travel may not take place for a few years, Kirby is confident that United will “make a decade of headway during the pandemic” and emerge as the world’s leading business class airline when the dust settles .
Lucas Manfredi of FOX Business and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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