Lufthansa is to offer passengers Covid-19 tests at Frankfurt airport that provide results within hours and can be linked to individual tickets in an effort to allow travellers to avoid quarantine.
The airline has joined forces with German company Centogene, which opened a walk-in testing centre at the airport on Monday that it said would act as a "blueprint to opening international borders".
Passengers coming through the hub will be able to pay for a test that provides a result within two to three hours, and that will soon be integrated with Lufthansa boarding passes.
The procedure would give customers "a comfortable opportunity to test themselves for flights abroad or a stay in Germany, to avoid quarantine", said Bjorn Becker, a director at Lufthansa.
He added that for travellers from Germany to countries such as the United Arab Emirates, the pre-flight test would be sufficient, while Chinese authorities might require an additional test upon landing.
The carrier said it would consider offering a similar service at its other big hub in Munich.
However, Lufthansa customers wishing to use Centogene's service at Frankfurt airport will have to pay up to €139 ($243) for the fast-track test, and an additional €9 to tie the verified result to their passport details.
A slower test, which provides a result in six to eight hours, is also available for €59.
The introduction of mandatory quarantines in several countries, including the UK, for international visitors, has hit airlines attempting to increase their long-haul flights in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Research carried out for the airline trade association Iata found that more than 80 per cent of travellers were concerned about being forced to quarantine at their destination, or upon their return to their home countries.
Last week, Iata appealed to governments to use other measures, including rapid testing, to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 spreading instead.
"Imposing quarantine measures on arriving travellers keeps countries in isolation and the travel and tourism sector in lockdown," said Alexandre de Juniac, Iata director-general.
The organisation has warned that airlines in Europe alone are set to lose more than US$21 billion ($32.6b) this year, as passenger demand drops more than 50 per cent.
On-site Covid-19 testing centres already exist at airports including New York's JFK, and Vienna International, which is home to Lufthansa's Austrian brand. Additionally, Emirates airline has been offering its passengers a 10-minute test at Dubai airport.
Rostock-based Centogene, which specialises in diagnosing and treating rare diseases, has already been providing on-site testing for companies and care homes across Germany, and works with two Bundesliga football teams.
The centre at Frankfurt airport can process 300 tests an hour, and Centogene said it was already looking to expand its facilities on the site. The company also operates a testing truck that it claims can process 5000 tests a day.
"Through our partnership with Lufthansa . . . we can ensure a quick, accurate, and secure end-to-end solution that safely reopens air travel and further supports a return to a new normal for our societies and economies," said Volkmar Weckesser, Centogene chief information officer.
Centogene, which has teamed up with Amazon to allow kits to be ordered at home, also hopes to expand its service to allow Germans travelling from areas with a recent coronavirus outbreak, such as Gütersloh, to enter other states within the country.
States such as Hessen, in which Frankfurt is situated, require visitors from areas with new outbreaks to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test in order to stay overnight.
Separately on Monday, Lufthansa said that due to an increase in bookings, more that half of its fleet of approximately 760 jets were flying again, and that by the end of October. the group would serve more than 70 per cent of its regular long-haul destinations.
Written by: Joe Miller
© Financial Times