Lufthansa First Airline to Plan on Offering COVID-19 Testing

German airline Lufthansa plans to start making rapid COVID-19 antigen tests available to its passengers in October, Reuters reported. Speaking on September 22, a company executive said that the carrier is also considering opening testing centers at select airports in the U.S. and Canada, as they are important markets for the airline.

This could prove to be a pioneering move at a time when the travel industry’s nascent recovery seems to hinge the upcoming availability of quick-results testing, since safety concerns, coupled with the ever-changing, worldwide patchwork of COVID-19 restrictions and quarantine requirements continue to outweigh people’s motivation to travel.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) only yesterday publicly called for rapid, affordable testing to be made available to all passengers prior to their departure as an alternative to current quarantine measures.

“Quarantine measures are killing the industry’s recovery,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO, according to The Washington Post. “Some 83 percent of travelers in a recent 11-market survey said that they will not travel if there is a chance of being quarantined at their destination. That is a very clear signal that this industry will not recover until we can find an alternative to quarantine.”

“The key to restoring the freedom of mobility across borders is systematic COVID-19 testing of all travelers before departure,” he continued. “This will give governments the confidence to open their borders without complicated risk models that see constant changes in the rules imposed on travel.”

Thus far, the air travel industry has largely supported the use of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests, which, while they offer enhanced accuracy, take several days to report results. Antigen tests, however, can be processed right on site without elaborate equipment or chemical exposure and provide results in roughly 15 minutes.

Abbott Laboratories, for instance, recently received an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card rapid test, which is not only affordable but also self-contained and as compact as a credit card. It was released alongside Abbott’s NAVICA mobile app, which allows users to display their results and produce proof of their negative test.

“You know that companies like Abbott or Roche are bringing these tests to the market and we are definitely looking into this,” Bjoern Becker, Lufthansa Group’s senior director for product management, ground and digital services, told reporters during a virtual call. “You will see us applying them for new products within the next few weeks in October. That’s definitely the next thing to come.”

To begin with, Lufthansa will likely make the new antigen tests available only to first-class and business class passengers, given that supplies are currently limited, said Becker.

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