European airlines are pinning hopes on pre-flight COVID-19 tests that deliver results as fast as pregnancy tests to help restore passengers’ confidence in taking to the skies in confined spaces with shared air.
The tests are administered by health authorities at the airports and included in ticket prices. If they prove popular and safe, these antigen-tested flights will be expanded to more domestic, and later international, routes.
Unlike laboratory-based molecular tests that have been the staple of health authorities in the pandemic, antigen tests do not require machines to process. Much like pregnancy tests, they can produce results in about 15 minutes.
However, the tests require an uncomfortable nasal swab and are not as accurate as the molecular, or PCR, tests. They generally produce more “false negatives” which could mean sick people could slip through the cracks and onto planes.
An increasing number are hitting the market, from companies such as Abbott Laboratories, Becton Dickinson & Co and Quidel Corp and Roche, which is rebranding antigen tests from South Korea’s privately held SD Biosensor.
Airlines are pressing governments to embrace alternatives to blanket travel restrictions amid a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in Europe.