United launches “Travel Ready Center” so passengers can get COVID-19 test at airport

United Airlines is now the first U.S. airline to offer passengers access to in-airport coronavirus testing. The rollout is a streamlined way for passengers to book a ticket, schedule a test and upload the results on the company’s app, in what travel experts say could be the “new normal” of travel. 

Almost a year into the pandemic, people across the globe are still confused over how to follow a patchwork of COVID-19 travel guidelines and protocols. 

“I was thinking the entire time as I was coming here, waiting for my COVID test to come in,” traveler Noah Johnston told CBS News’ Errol Barnett. “It adds another layer onto travel that under normal circumstances you don’t have to be worried about.”

United Airlines’ “Travel Ready Center” is aiming to fix the issue. 

The digital platform allows passengers to do everything from check COVID-19 requirements to schedule a test at the terminal. Whereas before, a traveler may be stuck jumping from page to page on various government websites, United’s new app ensures relevant information is attached directly to their ticket based on where they are going. 

“Based on the ticket that you purchased, tailored to you so that you will know everything that you need, particularly as all the COVID kind of landscape is changing,” United Airlines President of Digital Products Michelle Brown said.

CBS News had a firsthand look at the testing process at Newark Liberty International Airport’s XpresCheck — owned by Xpres Spa Group, a company that previously mainly focused on spas inside airports — where United’s new pop-up site opens Monday. 

XpresCheck CEO Doug Satzman said his company was uniquely positioned to offer COVID19 testing inside the terminal, having switched focus from manicures and massages to medical testing.

“Our spa business closed down at the end of March,” Satzman said. “So here we have three zones — We have a check-in, we have testing rooms, and then we have a full service lab.”

He noted the update will likely not be going away anytime soon.

“Like 9/11 changed air security forever, we’re still taking our shoes off,” he said. “COVID is going to change safety protocol in airports for a long time as well.”

Once tested, passengers upload results to their booking profile.

“The airlines are investing in providing testing because they know it’s good business,” travel industry analyst and Atmosphere Research Group President Henry Harteveldt said, adding that the move came from necessity.

He continued, “Some countries or destinations want you to have a PCR test. Others will take an antigen test. So it’s really confusing.”

Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, noted that while the process is more straightforward and could be the future of flying, a negative rapid test result does not guarantee safety.

“It’s not perfect, but it is another layer that could be introduced to help reduce the risk,” he explained

Since its app launch three weeks ago, United says they have already seen hundreds of thousands of customers upload their COVID-19 test results before boarding their flights.

In addition to rapid tests, the “Travel Ready Center” also offers PCR or antigen tests. The centers are so far available in Newark, San Francisco and LAX airports, with plans to expand.