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These U.S. airlines are offering pre-flight covid-19 testing — for a price


United Airline has begun a testing program. (United Airlines)

Even as U.S. coronavirus cases rise once again, and as more tourism destinations require proof of negative tests for travel, covid-19 testing in many areas remains difficult to secure. And it can be harder still if you need a result in a 72-hour time window before your arrival, as Hawaii and some other locations are now stipulating.

To address that problem, a number of airlines are partnering with health companies to ensure you can take an FDA-approved test, either at home or in-person, and receive your result before you board. It’s a convenient way to avoid a weeks-long quarantine — but it won’t come cheap.

The handful of U.S.-based airlines offering coronavirus tests are doing so via mail-in kits or offering rapid testing at select airports, with the option typically only available for certain flights. Here are the details on what each one’s covid-19 testing program offers, and how much it will cost you.

United

United was the first airline to announce testing options for passengers, albeit only for routes to Hawaii, in accordance with the reopening state’s negative-result requirement. Starting Thursday, passengers flying from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Hawaii can purchase a rapid test to be taken at the airport or make an appointment for a drive-through testing site.

Rapid tests at SFO, administered by GoHealth, cost $250, and results take about 15 minutes. Drive-up testing at a United facility near the airport, meanwhile, takes 20 to 30 minutes and costs $110. Travelers with a direct flight from San Francisco to Hawaii who want to secure testing should receive an email from United one week before their scheduled flight, or they can call United directly.


Signs in San Francisco International direct travelers to testing locations. (United Airlines)

The drive-through option replaces United’s original plan to offer self-collected mail-in tests, after Hawaii decided it would only accept tests supervised by a medical professional.

“Following our initial announcement, the Hawaiian government changed their guidance on the type of testing they would approve, and unsupervised mail-in testing options were not one of the options they are currently accepting,” United spokesperson Annabelle Cottee said via email. “Our testing partner Color will now be offering a drive-through test to United customers traveling to Hawaii, which has been approved by the state.”

American Airlines

American Airlines has partnered with health providers LetsGetChecked and CareNow for covid-19 tests, also beginning Thursday, for routes to Hawaii, Costa Rica, and the Caribbean.

The at-home tests are observed via video call by a LetsGetChecked medical professional, cost $129 and take about 48 hours for results to come back. (LetsGetChecked is recommending travelers order their kit at least five days before travel.) The at-home testing price “includes medical-professional-assisted testing and express shipping both ways,” said Rachel Warner, an American Airlines spokesperson.

In-person testing, for the moment, is available only in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where American is based, within 72 hours of departure. It costs $150 in a designated clinic or $249 in the airport.

On its website, American recommends at-home testing for anyone with a connecting flight and “adding 1 hour to your normal check-in time" if you’re doing a rapid test. Depending on your results, the airline says on its website it will “assist you in rescheduling your flight and issue a trip credit if needed."

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines is offering two testing options for its passengers beginning Thursday.

Drive-through appointments at the San Francisco and Los Angeles international airports guarantee a result within 36 hours and cost $90, with a $150 “premium day-of-travel” option also available. At-home mail-in saliva collection kits by Vault Health (also $150) include prepaid shipping and guarantee results within 24 hours of a kit’s arrival at a lab. That process is monitored by a health-care professional via Zoom.

JetBlue

JetBlue has likewise partnered with Vault Health, offering its $150 tests at a slightly reduced price of $143. In late September, JetBlue announced it would offer the at-home mail-in option to all its passengers, with results “provided within 72 hours or less.” Fliers can order a test by providing their name, email address and JetBlue confirmation code on Vault Health’s JetBlue webpage.

“All travelers should thoroughly research their destination or reentry travel requirements then make the best decision for testing based on their travel itinerary to avoid any disruptions,” JetBlue said in a news release about the program. “Properly timing testing to adhere to travel requirements must also be taken into consideration.”

Read more:

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