Although COVID-19 is the same disease everywhere and is transmitted in the same way under the same conditions, it seems like no two travel destinations have the same protocols for screening travelers. Some countries require an antigen (blood) test, some are content with a PCR test (the deep nose swab). Some places require testing before you travel, some on arrival; others require both. Some offer quarantine instead of testing, or enforce quarantine while you wait for results, or quarantine regardless of your results. And protocols keep changing, too.

United Airlines is working on a platform to cut the confusion, and it takes two forms.

First is the airline’s app, which provides an up-to-date portal, linked to your travel itinerary, about what precautions you need to take.

“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,” said United Airlines President of Digital Products Michelle Brown.

For those who need a test before flight, there’s the other half of United’s plan – in-airport COVID-19 testing. Combined with the app, the airline offers a streamlined way to book a ticket, schedule a test at their terminal of departure, and upload the results.

The pop-up testing sites are a joint effort between United and XpresCheck, formerly Xpres Spa Group. The second company used to focus almost entirely on spas in airports, providing luxury services to tired travelers. The pandemic nearly drove them out of business before this pivot.

“Our spa business closed down at the end of March (2020),” said Doug Satzman, XpresCheck CEO. “So here we have three zones — We have a check-in, we have testing rooms, and then we have a full-service lab.” The labs, currently available in New Jersey, San Francisco, and LAX, provide both PCR and antigen tests, with results in under two hours.

Photo: The United Airlines app will inform travelers about COVID testing requirements at their destination. Credit: Postmodern Studio /