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United Airlines to debut first flight of free coronavirus testing program on Newark-London route

The first passengers to take part in United Airlines' free coronavirus testing pilot program will depart Newark, N.J. for London on Monday night as airlines -- still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic -- attempt to re-establish transatlantic travel.

United Flight 14 will depart Newark Liberty International Airport and is expected to land at Heathrow Airport in London around 6:55 a.m. local time on Tuesday.

United's program kicks off just a month after reports surfaced that U.S. officials were looking into opening travel between New York City and London with shortened traveler quarantine periods as soon as the holidays.

As part of its effort to revitalize the battered industry, the airline is offering rapid tests to every crew member and passenger over the age of two on select flights from Newark to Heathrow through Dec. 11.

Passengers traveling on Flight 14, which departs at 7:15 p.m. ET on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, will receive the rapid tests, which will be administered by Premise Health prior to departure.

Passengers who don't want to be tested will be placed on an alternate flight in order to guarantee everyone -- aside from children under 2 -- has tested negative prior to departure, the airline previously said.

Toby Enqvist, chief customer officer for United, said that this same-day testing protocol will play a "vital role" in reopening travel around the world and "navigating quarantines and travel restrictions."

Enquivst said this testing will be particularly key to international destinations such as London. Prior to the pandemic, United said it had operated six daily flights between the New York area and London.

United, like Delta and American, rely on business and international travelers for much of their revenue.

United CEO Scott Kirby previously noted that business travel was the company's "bread and butter."

Monday's flight is the first major effort to navigate international quarantine restrictions while the industry tries to weather the pandemic.

However, just a month earlier, the carrier was also one of the first to announce optional pre-flight COVID-19 testing for customers traveling from California to Hawaii.

United and Hawaiian Airlines began to test certain passengers prior to boarding to help them manage quarantine mandates -- and in certain cases avoid quarantine periods altogether -- in an effort to increase passenger demand.

In the first 10 days of United's program, Oct. 15 to Oct. 25, the San Francisco to Hawaii flights saw a nearly 95% increase in passengers compared to the prior two-week period, United said.

"These positive trends illustrate a strong and pent-up demand for travel, customers' willingness to use pre-flight COVID-19 testing and the importance of these programs as a means of opening borders," United said in a note last month.

However, the airline has many obstacles to face as it continues to recover.

Chicago-based United began furloughing 13,000 workers on Oct. 1, and several thousand other employees took severance packages to leave voluntarily.

The airline has cut flights more aggressively than some of its closest competitors in a bid to align costs with dramatically lower ticket sales. And United is borrowing billions of dollars from the federal government and private lenders to outlast the pandemic. The airline ended September with $19.4 billion in liquidity.

Even though a full recovery in travel may not come for a few years, Kirby is confident that United will make "a decade worth of progress during the pandemic" and emerge as the world's number one business class airline when the dust settles.

This article originally appeared on Fox Business

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