Airports continue to innovate when it comes to finding new ways of operating safely during the global pandemic, and for some this has meant opening on-site COVID testing facilities, writes Joe Bates.
Aviation’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic is beginning to gain momentum with domestic travel booming in some parts of the world and hopes growing that quarantine-free international travel will become a possibility for most of us before the end of the year.
In order to facilitate this happening, it is imperative that airports show that they are safe places for both passengers and staff and that they are doing all that they can to prevent the spread of COVID.
As a result, over the last year, thermal imaging cameras, new self-service technology, hygiene technicians and cleaners busily disinfecting everything from seating, elevator buttons and handrails to check-in kiosks have become common sights at airports. And in recent months they have been joined by the opening of a number of on-site COVID testing laboratories and clinics.
We provide a quick global snapshot of a handful of these openings and discover how some are capable of providing COVID test results within 30 minutes.
Going large in Dubai
Dubai International Airport (DXB) boasts one of the world’s largest and most modern airport labs for the on-site processing of COVID-19 RT PCR tests.
Located close to Terminal 2, the 20,000 square-foot laboratory is a dedicated facility for round-the-clock processing of RT-PCR test samples collected from passengers at DXB.
And according to DXB operator, Dubai Airports, using latest WHO-standard COVID-19 RT-PCR testing equipment, the lab can process up to 100,000 samples per day and provide reliable results within a few hours.
Opened in conjunction with the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and Pure Health, the state-of-the-art laboratory is equipped with negative and positive pressure rooms and is linked to government reporting platforms to ensure the secure and easy sharing of information between health and regulatory authorities and the airlines.
Chairman of Dubai Airports, His Highness Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, said: “The lab is a fine demonstration of Dubai’s collaborative approach to tackling complex challenges and achieving great results.
“As the world’s busiest international hub preparing for a surge in passenger traffic over the summer holidays and beyond, we were keen to make sure that the airport journey is safer, smoother and faster while fulfilling the required health protocols.
“The lab’s quick turnaround for processing test results will go a long way in helping us deliver a service experience the world expects from Dubai.”
Results within 60 minutes at LAX
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) now offers COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests with results guaranteed in less than an hour with the addition of a new testing option at the Tom Bradley International Terminal.
The new tests are in addition to PCR tests being offered for sale at several locations throughout the airport (with results in either 3-5 hours or within 24 hours, depending on location) and rapid antigen tests at the airport’s innovative on-site laboratory.
“We continue to see a strong demand for fast and accurate COVID-19 testing at LAX, which is helping passengers travel safely and opening up more destinations to them,” said Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) CEO, Justin Erbacci.
“By adding a one-hour rapid PCR test, LAX once again is leading the way in airport innovation and guest service and providing travellers with access to dependable and accurate rapid testing solutions that meet their timing needs.”
XpresSpa leading the way
San Francisco International Airport (SFO) has become the latest US gateway to open a COVID-19 testing facility operated by the XpresSpa Group.
The XpresCheck at SFO is a pop-up facility located pre-security, near the baggage claim area on the Arrivals level at Terminal 3 and boasts nine separate testing rooms that between them are capable of conducting 500 tests per day.
COVID-19 testing options include a Rapid Molecular COVID-19 Test, the standard Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Test, and a new Rapid PCR test in the near future, with results available in as little as half-an-hour.
Doug Satzman, XpresSpa CEO, stated: “We are delighted to launch XpresCheck at San Francisco International Airport. Through our trusted relationship with United Airlines, we can now offer travellers and airline employees convenient COVID-19 testing options at our on-site testing facility.
“Additionally, several direct flights to Hawaii originate at SFO and we are proud to be a trusted partner of Hawaiian Airlines and the state of Hawaii. As airport traffic continues to increase, we are pleased to be doing our part to make everyone feel more comfortable through this additional layer of safety.”
Lori Augustine, United Airlines’ vice president of airport operations at SFO, said: “We’re thrilled to offer United customers travelling through San Francisco yet another testing option – this time, conveniently located before security inside our terminal – to help them meet the entry requirements at their final destination.
“United customers will be able to easily upload their test results into our Travel-Ready Center and start their travel with peace of mind.”
COVID lab pioneer
Back in March 2021, Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) opened a rapid testing lab for COVID-19 in a bid to facilitate the resumption of air travel and assist with quarantine tracking procedures.
The facility, opened by Abu Dhabi Airports in partnership with Pure Health and Tamouh Healthcare, was one of the region’s first PCR testing laboratories within an airport and is capable of testing 20,000 travellers and staff daily.
Designed to ensure the health, safety, and wellbeing of travellers and staff at Abu Dhabi International Airport, the new Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) testing process is free for arriving passengers and is one of the fastest in the world, with results available in approximately 90 minutes.
Abu Dhabi Airports CEO, Shareef Hashim Al Hashmi, said: “The introduction of the RT-PCR COVID-19 testing is a milestone achievement in our ongoing efforts to facilitate the safe resumption of international air travel and support the recovery of the aviation industry.”
Malmö and John Wayne airports
And opening COVID testing centres isn’t just the preserve of the hubs and the bigger gateways as Malmö in Sweden and John Wayne Airport in the US have proved in recent months.
Malmö Airport says that it has opened its new facility in response to “strong demand from passengers and airlines for the chance to take PCR and Antigen tests and to have travel certificates issued at the airport”.
Scantest carries out PCR and Antigen tests at the airport, and if the test result is negative a travel certificate signed by a specialist doctor is issued. The response time is two to four hours for PCR tests and 30-60 minutes for Antigen tests.
“Naturally, we think it is very positive that we can now offer a service for which there is strong demand and that is absolutely crucial to our passengers and airlines at Malmö Airport. The tests are important with the restart of air travel and in many cases are a necessary complement to the EU Covid certificate,” says Karin Öhrström, airport director at Malmö Airport.
Swedavia notes that there is already a test centre for PCR and Antigen tests under the management of EspressCare at Stockholm Arlanda and Göteborg Landvetter airports.
Meanwhile in the US, California’s John Wayne Airport has opened a Hoag Rapid COVID-19 Testing Clinic and a Fly Well Clinic, which at the time of their unveiling made it one of just a few airports in the US to offer travellers on-site COVID-19 vaccinations, urgent care, telehealth consultations and vital screenings.
The Hoag Rapid COVID-19 Testing Clinic is located pre-security in Terminal B on the Departure Level before the TSA Security Checkpoint.
“As we begin to see an increase in air travel once again, we want to ensure that our guests feel safe and healthy,” notes John Wayne Airport director, Barry Rondinella.
“As the highest-ranked health care provider in Orange County, Hoag is uniquely positioned to address our guests’ specific health care needs, as well as the needs of the nearly 900 people who work at the airport.”