German airline Lufthansa will offer customers on select flights a free coronavirus test prior to departure, as part of a pilot scheme aimed at perfecting new hygiene protocols and operating “100% negative tested” flights.
The aviation industry has been hard hit by the pandemic and airlines are struggling to stay afloat as air travel demand continues to stay at record-low levels. Lufthansa’s financial situation is so precarious that the German government granted it a €9 billion bailout.
Testing at airports has been identified by the industry as a crucial step in rebuilding passenger confidence in flying and in Helsinki, sniffer dogs have even been trained to detect infected travellers.
As of 12 November, Lufthansa will offer passengers on two of its daily Hamburg-Munich flights free access to rapid antigen testing, which can provide a result within an hour. Passengers will also be able to provide their own negative PCR test to access boarding.
“With our test strategy, we are pursuing the goal of using the data obtained to gain important insights into the use of rapid tests. Successful testing of entire flights can be the key to revitalising international air traffic,” said airline executive Christina Foerster.
Any passengers that opt out of testing will be offered free rebooking on another flight the same day, Lufthansa said in a statement. Other carriers within its airline group, which includes Austrian and Brussels Airlines, are also deploying similar initiatives.
“The first test flight with 100 percent negative tested passengers is LH2058, which leaves Munich for Hamburg at 9.10 a.m. The second daily flight on which all passengers are tested is LH2059 from Hamburg to Munich,” the airline confirmed.
Airlines for Europe, the industry’s main trade body, said in a policy paper that “mass deployment of affordable quick tests shortly before departure – potentially at the departure airport – could restore European travel by minimising risks and giving confidence to travellers.”
“An effective testing protocol would boost passengers’ confidence, knowing they would potentially not need to quarantine, or only for a limited amount of time if they are arriving from high risk regions,” the group added.
At a recent meeting of EU leaders, European Council President Charles Michel said that rapid testing could be a “game changer” as governments struggle to manage increased case numbers and intensive care demand, as part of the virus’ second wave.
However, antigen tests are less accurate than the more thorough PCR tests, which take several hours if not longer, to provide a result. The US Food and Drink Administration (FDA) said on Tuesday (3 November) that false positives are also a consideration to look out for.
Antigen tests are quicker because they detect proteins on the surface of virus cells, in comparison to PCR swabs which test for genetic material.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]