TORONTO — Earlier this month, when Air Canada and WestJet announced new COVID-19 testing at Pearson Airport and Vancouver Airport respectively, they were in good company.
One of the world’s largest airline groups (and Air Canada’s Star Alliance partner) was already doing airport COVID-19 testing, with great success. Lufthansa Group started doing COVID-19 tests at Frankfurt Airport back in June.
Since then Lufthansa Group and rare disease company CENTOGENE have been jointly enabling passengers departing from or arriving at Frankfurt Airport (FRA) to have access to fast, reliable tests for the SARS CoV-2 virus. The group says this first ‘walk-in’ coronavirus test centre in Germany serves as a blueprint for a successful test concept and helps passengers entering Germany from high-risk countries.
Throughout summer 2020, more than 150,000 passengers at Frankfurt Airport underwent SARS-CoV-2 PCR testing. Over a six-week period, about 1% of the samples were positive. Over 97% of the test results were digitally transmitted to passengers in August 2020 in less than 24 hours. And passengers who had registered for the test in advance only had to wait about 20 minutes before being tested.
“We wanted to lower the hurdle for passengers to get this test,” said Dr. Bjoern Becker, Senior Director, Product Management, Ground & Digital Services for the Lufthansa Group.
Dr. Becker offered a recap of the program’s success as part of the airline group’s ‘Safe Travels with Lufthansa Group in times of COVID-19’ online media conference yesterday.
“You can register digitally [for the test] and you can get the certificate digitally through our app,” he said.
The COVID-19 testing will be integrated into Lufthansa’s Premium Service offering in the coming months, but that doesn’t mean that it will only be offered to Premium Service passengers, says Dr. Becker. “Our testing is a service for every customer,” he said.
However the test, in partnership with CENTOGENE, does come at a cost. The standard process, with results in about 12 hours, is 59 euros. The express process, with a six-hour wait time, is 139 euros.
As successful as the PCR test has been, Dr. Becker says he’s eyeing the day not too far down the road that Lufthansa Group can offer an antigen test for COVID-19, which delivers results even more quickly.
The challenge is getting enough capacity at the airports to effectively and quickly test hundreds of passengers pre-flight. “We need to make sure the antigen tests are scalable,” said Dr. Becker.
Regardless of what form the testing takes, Lufthansa Group is looking at the project long-term. “Our message is, testing is important. And testing will stay with us for the next 12 – 18 months,” said Dr. Becker.
Lufthansa resumed its Toronto – Frankfurt flights in June. The group received a 9 billion euro aid package from the German government in the spring, however the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has forced the company to announce more layoffs in recent days.
Dr. Becker acknowledges that these are very tough times for airlines, including Lufthansa Group, and the travel industry at large. “But we are doing our best to manage this, and to protect our guests, and to make travel as enjoyable as possible for our guests.”