Montreal International Airport (YUL) will become the latest Canadian airport to offer passengers a pre-flight COVID-19 test, following on from similar pilot programs launched at Calgary and Vancouver.
The trial represents increased availability of COVID tests for travelers in Canada, improving access for Canadians to visit countries requiring proof of a negative test result and making it easier to travel abroad without having to spend time in quarantine. The program also heralds a more widespread roll-out of pre-flight tests to airports in the country and around the world over coming weeks and months as the airline industry grapples with international travel during the pandemic.
Rapid Tests A Convenient Option
Montreal’s testing program, set to begin on December 15, will follow a similar trial launched by WestJet and Vancouver International Airport in November. Both programs use a form of rapid-antigen test which can deliver results after just 15 minutes, much faster than PCR tests which can take up to 48 hours to provide results. This makes them ideal for pre-flight testing, which airlines want to be as efficient and hassle-free as possible.
The rapid antigen tests at YUL will be offered to Canadians travelling to metropolitan France on flights by Air Canada, Air France, KLM or Air Transat. The test will be conducted on arrival at the airport, carried out by health firm Biron Health Group Inc, with results available before boarding. A negative test result procured in this way will be accepted by French authorities for entry into France without the need to quarantine.
The test program represents another step towards facilitating a safe return to international travel, alongside other health screening and safety measures put into place by airports and airlines including deep cleaning, the use of hospital-grade air filters, social distancing, and mask wearing, allowing people to travel safely on flights and removing some of the barriers currently stopping people from traveling abroad.
Philippe Rainville, President and CEO of ADM Aéroports de Montréal, said in a statement that “the pilot screening test project improves the procedures already in place and represents a decisive step in ensuring the safest possible travel for passengers”, acknowledging that the airline industry must “adapt to a new reality” amid the pandemic.
Canadians traveling from Vancouver and Calgary airports have already had the opportunity to participate in COVID-19 testing programs, with rapid antigen tests offered on domestic WestJet flights from Vancouver and PCR tests available on WestJet flights from Calgary to Hawaii and for international arrivals in Calgary to reduce the mandatory quarantine time in Canada.
While they remain limited at present and still very much in the development phase, testing programs have been successful so far, having also been used for flights between the US and Europe. Pre-flight testing is likely to be rolled out at other airports across the world as the air travel industry seeks to encourage customers to return to vacationing abroad amid the pandemic.
Some airlines, notably Qantas, have indicated that in the future all international travelers will be required to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccine before flying. But the controversies and difficulties of this requirement mean that the use of health screenings and pre-flight testing will be a more common feature of international travel over next year at least.
Some Downsides To Testing Programs
That said, there are some drawbacks to the testing trials which could cause problems for travelers. In particular, the tests being offered at YUL will cost travelers CAD$149. While some will consider this a small price to pay to enable international travel, it is nonetheless a significant additional cost to factor into vacations, which may deter some travelers.
What’s more, there remain some doubts about the efficacy of rapid-antigen tests as opposed to PCR tests. The World Health Organisation has warned that rapid antigen tests, which are being used in several testing trials including at Montreal, were less accurate and have a higher risk of false-negative results than PCR tests, which have a longer turnaround time.
Given the challenges of safe travel during the pandemic, it is likely to be some time before airlines and airports can develop effective and efficient pre-flight testing procedures that can be rolled out globally. Travelers will have to remain patient and be prepared for higher costs and more pre-flight procedures in the meantime.
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