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United Airlines will become the first US airline to offer pre-flight rapid COVID testing starting October 15th.

United to Trial Pre-flight COVID-19 Tests in San Francisco

It will initially roll out at just one airport in San Francisco (SFO) and only for passengers traveling to Hawaii. If the program is successful, they would like to expand the program and cite New York, LA, and Chicago as the next probably expansions.

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Courtesy: United Media Hub

Hawaii Reopens – COVID Tests Avoid Quarantine

Hawaii reopens to tourism on October 15th, with a change that will allow tourists to avoid a mandatory (and truly enforced!) 14 day quarantine with a negative COVID test within 72 hours of arrival in Hawaii.

These rapid tests will fulfill that requirement. They will cost $250 if administered at the airport. Flyers can also pay $80 plus shipping for a test sent to their home that will give results within 48 hours.

COVID Rapid Testing in New York

In New York, Newark (EWR) and JFK Airport (JFK) are already offering COVID testing through XpresCheck for a fee. It’s a seemingly solid pivot for airport spa company XpressSpa which has been clearly hurting during the pandemic.

The Issue with Rapid Testing

I don’t see it discussed by the articles talking about this rollout by United, but COVID rapid tests have tended to have a high false result rate. This test is by Abbott and Abbott lists a 98.5% accuracy rate. That’s actually great compared to the rapid tests we’ve had to date, with accuracy sometimes off by as much as 10%. But that still means that there’s a 1.5 in 100 chance that you could register as positive when you don’t actually have COVID. Or test negative when you have it. Obviously, I have no solution to that – but it’s worth being aware of.


It’s a great move by United. They aren’t administering the test themselves so it’s much less effort on their part than their press release¬†might have you thinking. But I do believe strongly that accurate rapid testing pre-flight is the key to getting us closer to normal when it comes to flights. If we had something truly at 100% accuracy and everyone had to take it at the airport within an hour or two of the flight, it would seem we’d then be safe to remove masks and return the flying experience to normal. Of course, the expense of those tests needs to be borne by someone, somehow, and no matter who pays, the flyer will be the one paying….



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I got "in the game" in 2003 and since then I've collected literally millions and millions of frequent flyer miles and hotel points. I've flown around the world in first class seats that would cost $29,000 using frequent flyer miles and a few bucks in tax. And I've stayed in some of the finest hotels - all for free! A few years ago I realized many of my friends actually thought I was paying for these!! So I started sharing my tips. It's long been a passion, but when I hosted a session on Miles and Points at this year's South by Southwest festival, my love of the game intensified and this blog was born.


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