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FlyerTalk Takes the American COVID-19 Test: The Nose Knows

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Image Source: American Airlines

In the interest of learning more about the COVID-19 exams offered by the airlines, FlyerTalk ordered the at-home LetsGetChecked COVID-19 exam offered to American Airlines flyers prior to departure. We documented our experiences – and the results – to see how airlines are working to earn the flying public’s trust.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has discouraged flyers from traveling to their regular final destinations for a number of reasons. From rolling “safer at home” orders, to fear of contracting the novel Coronavirus that leads to the disease, the number of passengers aboard aircraft has diminished significantly this year.

As a strategy to bring flyers back to aircraft, airlines are starting to offer at-home COVID-19 exams for flyers concerned about their health, or flying to destinations with 14-day quarantine restrictions. American Airlines partnered with LetsGetChecked to provide test kits for travelers heading to certain destinations. To learn more about the process, we paid for a test and learned what it takes to get tested before flying.

The LetsGetChecked COVID-19 Test: The Dreaded Nasal Swab

Much like the JetBlue-Vault Health exam, the purchase process was straightforward. In addition to requesting my personally identifiable information, I was asked for the reason why I wanted the exam. At the time the test was purchased, travel was not an option. None-the-less, I continued through the process and ordered my $119 kit. To complete this exam, I was not asked to provide a copy of my photo ID.

Four days later, my exam arrived in a plain envelope via the U.S. Postal Service, meaning I had to go to the mailbox to claim the test. Inside the box was a large, poster-size pamphlet giving me instructions on how to complete the test, as well as the instruments of the exam: a nasal swab and collection tube.

The LetsGetChecked COVID-19 test kit unboxed. Photo courtesy: Joe Cortez for FlyerTalk.

I was also given a card with an alpha code and numerical code for the kit, which I input during the test activation to link it with my account. With this exam, I was given a return envelope for UPS Next-Day delivery, but was not asked to input the return label tracking number.

With everything complete, there was only one thing left to do: insert the swab into my nasal cavity, up until the point that I felt a gentle pressure. The test clearly instructed me not to go further, unlike pictures and videos of other COVID-19 tests where the swab goes very deep into the nasal cavity. And because it was a sterile object, once the swab is opened it cannot be placed anywhere but in the nasal cavity or the collection tube.

This test was unmonitored: I was on my own to determine what “gentle pressure” meant in each nostril. Taking a deep breath, I did as the test asked, inserting the swab in each cavity, and twisting the swab for 10 seconds.

However, since I took the exam, the process has changed. According to LetsGetChecked, they will now require testers to have a video call with one of their “care professionals” to confirm the person’s identity and observe the exam, in order to ensure the tester is doing it correctly. From experience, I can say that the assistance of someone else to make sure I was meeting the definition of “gentle and non-invasive” would have been ideal.

It was not a comfortable experience, but it wasn’t painful. I sneezed after each swabbing, which I suppose is to be expected in these situations. I quickly inserted the swab into the collection tube, snapped it off at the score line, sealed it, and packed everything up in the box it came in to return to the lab.

The LetsGetChecked COVID-19 Test Results

Like Vault, the LetsGetChecked exam was supposed to come back within 48 hours. I was alerted by text message that my sample was at the lab on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020, with results arriving one day later. Instead of e-mailing an exam receipt, I was prompted to log into my account to see the results. To my delight, it was the second negative exam.

The exam results from LetsGetChecked. Image courtesy: Joe Cortez for FlyerTalk.

Overall Thoughts on the LetsGetChecked COVID-19 Exam

Much has been made of the “brain swab” exams, which were the primary way to test for COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic. Although this exam wasn’t comfortable, it was easier than those before me had it, and I was confident in the results I was given. The test isn’t bad, but be prepared for a disagreeable experience.

I can also agree with LetsGetChecked’s suggestion of ordering your kit five days or more before your flight is due. Because it is shipped via U.S. Mail, your delivery times will significantly vary. Order the test ahead of time, and take it within 72 hours of your departure.

The downside of this exam is that the State of Hawaii has not specifically listed the exam as one which can be used to bypass the quarantine requirements, although American says flyers who take the test will not have to quarantine upon arrival in Honolulu or Maui. Meanwhile, New York State does not allow non-essential visitors to bypass the 14-day quarantine, even if they test negative for COVID-19.

On the plus side, the airline notes that they are working with The Bahamas and Jamaica to offer a testing option to allow flyers to bypass the quarantine restrictions.

In the end, this test gave me peace of mind, and it felt like it could be more accurate than others. While I can travel knowing I’m not carrying the virus, it doesn’t mean I won’t get it, which means caution should continue to be exercised.

Our COVID-19 Test Methodology

To maintain journalistic integrity, FlyerTalk purchased each at-home COVID-19 exam. The LetsGetChecked exam cost $119, but the price has since increased to $129 from the American Airlines landing page.

The exams from LetsGetChecked and Vault Health were opened and taken on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. The author – a 36-year-old, 260-pound male with diagnosed hypertension and mental health concerns who has previous exposure to a person with COVID-19 – took both exams within minutes of each other. Both exams were then packaged and dropped off at a UPS location to be shipped to their respective labs within one hour of completion.

FlyerTalk has reached out to United Airlines to purchase a COVID-19 exam from their at-home provider, Color. Once we obtain their test, we will publish those results as well.

While every attempt was made to correctly take and describe each test, your experience and results may vary.

SaltyGB December 9, 2020

It does not state the test methodology? Most places require certification that it was via RT-PCR (Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction). Does anybody know who they have not listed the test method?

sfoeuroflyer October 14, 2020

The airlines are trying. Government bureaucrats who have no common sense, no imagination, and no ability to measure risk/benefit are making terrible decisions blocking what would be beneficial solutions. This underscores how government does not understand that the perfect is the enemy of the good. How do we un yoke ourselves from these bureaucrats?