This could be a game changer – 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.
Germany’s Lufthansa, at the mercy of government bailouts for survival, is in talks with the Swiss drugmaker Roche over deploying so-called antigen tests, according to two people familiar with the discussions, as the airline aims to make them available next month.
The Italian operator Alitalia, meanwhile, told Reuters that from Wednesday it would add two flights from Milan to Rome, to the two it is already offering from Rome to Milan, exclusively for passengers with negative tests.
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, the airline said.
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 on to 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.