United Airlines Holdings (NASDAQ:UAL) announced today that it will soon offer COVID-19 tests to passengers, an attempt to help customers navigate quarantine and testing requirements. The program could eventually serve as a blueprint for expanded international travel.
The airline said that starting Oct. 15, customers traveling from San Francisco to Hawaii would have the option to take a rapid test at the airport or a self-collected mail-in test ahead of the trip. Passengers would have to pay for the tests; the amount has not yet been announced.
The start of the testing program coincides with Hawaii lifting a mandatory two-week quarantine for all arriving passengers. As of Oct. 15, anyone who can show they have tested negative in the 72 hours prior to arrival will not be subject to the current 14-day requirement.
Although the program is focused on Hawaii for now, it could provide a template for airlines looking to restore their international schedules in the months to come. The pandemic has wiped out demand for international flying and led to countries imposing restrictions on inbound passengers.
It's likely that demand will return before international restrictions are lifted, and airlines and their passengers will probably have to navigate healthcare restrictions and regulations along with the usual customs and visa guidelines long associated with international travel.
If that's the case, the airline that is best able to help its customers work through testing requirements could get a competitive edge over rivals.