El Al Airlines aims to offer an extra level of COVID-19 precaution by requiring that passengers supplement negative PCR tests either with proof that they are immune to the disease or by undergoing rapid antigen testing before boarding.
The measures, applied to a trial flight on Monday, were tied into Israel‘s world-beating COVID vaccination drive and post-pandemic planning, which have drawn foreign interest.
Like other countries, Israel requires negative PCR tests of incoming and departing travelers.
But El Al said its evening Flight 003 to New York would be unique in carrying only those who also presented vaccination certificates, proof of recovery from COVID-19, or who passed antigen tests at Ben Gurion Airport. Anyone failing a test would not be allowed to fly, it said.
“Today’s flight is, I think, the first in the world where you will know that you have verified that everyone onboard is certainly clean and non-coronavirus contagious,” Leehu Hacohen, El Al’s vice president for operations, told Army Radio.
Used widely, the method could reduce social distancing that limits turnover at airports and cramps passenger comfort, and allow business as usual for duty-free shops and restaurants, he said.
“It’ll be possible to open up all of these and go back to or approximate the experience of flight, of terminal commerce.”
The antigen tests, developed by Sheba Medical Center, take 15 minutes to deliver results and are considered reliable for detecting active coronavirus infection, an El Al spokesman said. He said they would be provided to passengers for free, for now.