Updated 1 February 2021

What would air travel be like post-pandemic? Experts and industry players have their guesses, but one thing’s for sure: testing will be a fixture in the travel process for a while. In some countries, quarantines and tests are already requirements for arrivals, even.

Do I need a COVID test to fly?

This would depend on several factors; testing requirements vary across the globe, depending on the destination, country of departure along with the status of the travellers themselves. More and more countries are requiring travellers—particularly tourists or non-residents— to submit a negative RT-PCR test report from an accredited or approved laboratory conducted within a specific time window. Failure to produce this document may result in them getting denied boarding, denied entry, and/or facing mandatory institutional quarantine once they’ve arrived at their destinations.

Some countries with more stringent entry regulations, for example the UAE, even mandate travellers to submit a pre-departure negative RT-PCR test report followed by another test at the airport upon arrival.

As rules regarding testing requirements and important travel documents could change at a moment’s notice these days, it’s best to keep up with the news and stay in contact with the country’s embassy.

Why should travellers be required to get tested before departure?

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) in a press release stated that border restrictions along with quarantine requirements upon arrival have sunk demand for travel, especially in Europe. Many travellers remain hesitant or unable to make plans due to limited border reopening, quarantine measures, and shifting COVID-19 policies. In its public survey, IATA found that 83% of travelers will not fly if they have to quarantine on arrival.

Further, the organization concluded that mandatory pre-departure testing for all passengers is key to restoring global air travel connectivity. This will give governments the confidence to open borders fully and possibly eliminate the need to quarantine arrivals. This claim is backed by strong public opinion from its survey; 84% agreed that testing should be required of all travelers and 65% agreed that quarantine is not necessary if a person tests negative for COVID-19.

In an attempt to call for standardization of testing around the world, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has released a COVID-19 testing guideline for governments to incorporate into the travel process.


What kind of test would ideally be administered?

According to Dr. David Powell, medical advisor for IATA, The RT-PCR (Real-time Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction) testing is the gold standard when it comes to detecting the virus.

As of now, the primary method is a nasopharyngeal swab, which is a swab through the nose and the back of the throat. However, some tests are being developed so the test can be administered using saliva sample.

What would be the ideal testing system?

IATA called for the development and deployment of rapid, accurate, affordable, easy-to-operate, scalable and systematic COVID-19 testing for all passengers before departure.

Who should pay for the test?

IATA, along with the regulation from the World Health Organization (WHO) International Health, requires governments to bear the costs of mandatory health testing.

What happens if the passenger tests positive?

If testing is conducted prior to travel or at the point of departure with the passenger testing positive, then said passenger will not be able to travel as planned. IATA points out that some airlines are offering flexible policies in this situation.

If testing is mandated on arrival and a passenger tests positive, then the passenger should be treated according to the requirements of the destination country. Airlines should not be required to repatriate the passenger(s) or given financial penalties for this situation.