The friendly skies just got a bit more COVID-friendly. A new partnership between United Airlines and Abbott will offer international travelers a much more streamlined approach to obtaining the negative COVID test required to enter the U.S.
The collaboration comes days after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its international travel guidance to allow those negative results to come from self-taken tests.
Under the updated guidelines, international travelers to the U.S. can now use any at-home antigen or nucleic acid amplification test that has received emergency use authorization from the FDA to enter the country, as long as the testing process is overseen in real time by a telehealth service that verifies the test-taker’s identity, ensures the testing is done correctly and confirms the results.
United and Abbott’s partnership centers on the latter’s prescription-only BinaxNOW Home Test—not to be confused with the BinaxNOW Self Test, which has been cleared by the FDA for over-the-counter purchase but does not meet the CDC’s requirements.
The antigen test was authorized by the FDA in December. It uses a credit card-sized paper booklet to return a positive or negative result of a nasal swab within 15 minutes, with the entire process overseen by a clinician dispatched by eMed, Abbott’s chosen telehealth partner. The virtual consultation takes place via Abbott’s Navica mobile app, where the test results are also automatically transmitted and stored.
The FDA authorized the test for use with self-taken swabs collected by patients 15 and older, while those aged 4 to 14 must have their samples collected by a parent or guardian.
The BinaxNOW Home Tests, which cost $25 each, require a prescription for use. That requirement is fulfilled when the tests are ordered through eMed's telehealth service, which verifies eligibility requirements for each test-taker prior to the purchase.
With the United and Abbott collaboration, United travelers on round-trip international flights that depart from and return to the U.S. can order a six-pack of BinaxNOW tests from eMed for $150 through the airline’s website after booking their travel. The tests will be shipped to the passenger before their departing flight and should be packed in carry-on luggage throughout the trip; passengers are recommended to bring more than one test kit on their travels.
Within 72 hours of returning to the U.S., the passenger will log into the eMed portal in the Navica app to be guided through the testing process. With a negative result, a digital certificate in the form of a QR code will be uploaded to the app. The code will be scanned by a United employee at the check-in desk for the passenger’s return flight.
“The BinaxNOW COVID-19 rapid test is the most studied and widely used rapid test in the United States today, and with our partner United, we’re making testing even more broadly available as the country returns to international business and leisure travel,” Andrea Wainer, executive VP of Abbott’s rapid and molecular diagnostics business, said in a statement.