With the Coronavirus slowing the world down for the last several months, many industries are anxious to see customers return, none more so than the airline industry. Many companies had to lay off pilots and staff, cut down on hours, or lower wages and benefits. Travel has arguably been the most impacted industry of all. Now, with the advent of accessible, quick response testing, airports have started test runs for these quick response tests. However, the question remains: are they effective and is this safe?
The International Air Transportation Association (IATA) has asked that airlines begin to offer testing to their customers, and already, many have responded to the call. United Airlines, JetBlue, and others have all begun to roll out testing programs, on certain flight paths, to test out these pre-flight tests and to set up the infrastructure for further destinations. However, the pros and cons of these pre-flight testing become more apparent the longer they are being used.
Rapid testing is not as thorough as other forms of testing, and rapid tests can miss up to a third of asymptomatic people. Outbreaks in Iceland, after it allowed those who passed a pre-flight test to bypass quarantine, has shown that those tests are not foolproof. In addition, numerous new cases among senators, governors, and even the President of the United States after a White House meeting has shown this in further detail. Essentially, pre-flight rapid response testing is the age old trade off of speed for accuracy.
One of the main issues with rapid response testing is that it cuts out the cushion time to detect people who have Coronavirus, but who are still only in the incubation period of the disease. Coronavirus has a seven to fourteen day incubation period, and testing doesn’t always pick that up. Therefore, when people are allowed to skip quarantine, after testing negative before their flight, countries run the risk of admitting those who have the disease, but who are merely in the incubation period.
Some suggest that pre-flight testing should continue, but that it should continue in tandem with quarantine. Some think that pre-flight testing should reduce the quarantine time, but health care workers are skeptical. As always, the road for the innovation needed to protect travelers will be paved with unsuccessful attempts.