Airlines Seek Quick Coronavirus Tests for Passengers
European airlines are aiming to give passengers quick, pre-flight coronavirus tests in an effort to get more travelers to start flying again.
The tests could produce results in as little as 15 minutes. The airlines hope the effort will help convince passengers that flying is safe during the continuing health crisis.
Germany's Lufthansa is in talks with Swiss drug company Roche over deploying the so-called antigen tests, the Reuters news agency reported. Several airlines are planning to make the tests available to passengers as early as next month, Reuters said.
Officials for Italy's Alitalia told Reuters that the airline had added two flights from Milan to Rome that only accept passengers with negative coronavirus tests. Those flights are in addition to two it is already offering from Rome to Milan.
Alitalia says health officials give the tests at the airport. The tests are included in ticket prices. The airline also said it plans to offer more antigen-tested flights within Italy and internationally if they prove to be popular and safe.
Unlike the more commonly used laboratory-based molecular tests for COVID-19, antigen tests do not require machines to process. Much like pregnancy tests, they can produce results in about 15 minutes.
However, the tests require collection of a nasal sample that can be unpleasant. They also have higher error rates than the molecular, or PCR, tests. Antigen tests generally produce more "false negatives," which could lead to some sick people getting on planes.
An increasing number of antigen tests are becoming available from companies including Abbott Laboratories, Becton, Dickinson and Company, Quidel and Roche.
Quick antigen tests that can be given by non-medical workers are expected to be available in the coming weeks, said Alexandre de Juniac. He is head of the International Air Transport Association. He added that the tests could cost as little as $7 each.
Airlines have been pressing governments to come up with new safety measures to ease widespread travel restrictions that were put in place after Europe started seeing a rise in cases.
Even though the tests are not perfect, airline companies hope they can help people feel safer about flying.
"It is to give ... confidence, at a specific point in time, that the result is positive or negative," said Christian Paulus, a Roche research and development manager. He added that because of possible errors with antigen tests, results would need to be confirmed in some cases using the PCR method.
A spokesman for Alitalia said none of its passengers who took the pre-flight antigen tests were positive. The airline said it plans to examine findings from its testing experiment in the middle of October before deciding whether to expand the program.
Lufthansa Chief Executive Carsten Spohr recently told employees that the airline was in talks with Roche over deploying the tests. A Lufthansa spokeswoman told Reuters the airline believes the tests would be a better solution "than putting somebody into quarantine."
Germany is considering wider antigen test use starting in October, including in nursing homes where older patients have been hardest hit by COVID-19.
I'm Bryan Lynn.