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United Is the First U.S. Airline to Offer Covid-19 Tests to Passengers | Frommer's Markus Mainka/ Shutterstock

United Is the First U.S. Airline to Offer Covid-19 Tests to Passengers

United Airlines will be the first airline in the United States to extend Covid-19 testing to passengers.

The program will start small, rolling out only on flights from San Francisco to Hawaii starting October 15.

Earlier this month, the state government of Hawaii announced that it would begin accepting tourists again, but only if they arrive with fresh, negative viral tests in hand. United's testing policy will enable it to sell more tickets to the Hawaiian market.

Passengers will have the option of taking a $250 rapid test, which yields results in about 15 minutes and can be administered between 9am and 6pm daily at SFO airport, or arranging ahead of time to take a mail-in test.

For the mail-in method, which will cost $80 and is available through United, the airline recommends initiating the process 10 days before departure and furnishing a sample within 72 hours of your trip (per Hawaii's timing guidelines).

The cost of the testing will not be included in ticket prices. The testing fee must be paid separately. 

To execute the rapid testing, United is partnering with the same health group that was contracted to test the airline's staff and crew at SFO—a program Frommer's told you about in August. A different health company will fulfill mail orders.

Also on Thursday, German airline Lufthansa announced that it will introduce on-the-spot coronavirus testing for passengers on as-yet-unspecified intercontinental flights in October. Those tests are anticipated to cost only €10 ($12).

We're enthusiastic about these developments. We think these are the first steps toward opening the world again.

So does the International Air Transport Association, which represents about 290 airports. On Tuesday, the organization called for Covid-19 testing for all passengers and crew boarding international flights.

"The key to restoring the freedom of mobility across borders is systematic Covid-19 testing of all travelers before departure," the IATA statement said.

It's finally happening: Propelled by government guidelines in Hawaii and empowered by better viral detection methods, airlines are finally stepping up and testing passengers. 

Our fingers are crossed that this pilot program proves to be a safe way to get travel moving again.

Update, Sept. 25: Hawaiian Airlines announced that it will also begin Covid-19 testing to satisfy Hawaii's new entry requirements. The airline has partnered with drive-through testing facilities near SFO as well as near Los Angeles (LAX). The price for the service will be $90 for results within 36 hours or $150 for same-day results. The airline said additional partnerships will be announced soon.

Update, Sept. 29: American Airlines has announced that it will also begin testing its Hawaii passengers soon at Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW) and its passengers for Jamaica at Miami (MIA) and on its flights to The Bahamas. It will provide testing through customers' choice of three options: home testing, at CareNow urgent care locations, or at the airport through CareNow representatives; the full details of American's upcoming program have been posted on its website

Update, Nov. 23: United Airlines has expanded the option for mail-in testing to passengers on flights between Houston to Latin America and the Caribbean. Included cities: Aruba, Belize City, Guatemala City, Lima, Nassau, Panama City, Roatan, San Pedro Sula, San Salvador, Tegucigalpa.