Passengers who opt for an antigen test will receive a link to the results, via text message, the same day. Travelers who chose the slower but more accurate PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test will get their results back within 48 to 72 hours. Testing will cost between $70 and $130.
The program is a partnership among the airport, Jefferson Health, and Ambulnz, a mobile medical services company. It comes as many destinations in the Caribbean, one of the biggest winter markets for flights out of PHL, are requiring that passengers test negative for coronavirus with a PCR test in the 72 hours before boarding.
PHL CEO Chellie Cameron said the new program will help support economic recovery in the hard-hit travel and hospitality industry, while catering to passengers who are factoring more precautions into their plans.
“Travelers today understand that they have to take steps and measures, and plan appropriately if they’re going to travel,” Cameron said.
The testing facilities at the airport are intended for asymptomatic, ticketed passengers — not the general public. People getting tested will need to pay up front, and won’t be able to present an insurance card at the site.
PHL is offering two hours of free parking for passengers coming to get tested.
Jefferson Health officials said they expect the testing process to be seamless, from the ease of parking to the text alert that results are ready.
With antigen testing, which is less expensive, the results will come back in 15 to 20 minutes, said Jonathan Gleason, Jefferson Health’s chief qualify officer.
That option is likely to appeal to people traveling within the United States — whether because those travelers will want peace of mind before seeing family members, or because they are honoring the testing requirements of their destination.
“They’ll get a pretty rapid turnaround,” Gleason said. “It comes straight to their cell phone.”
Travelers should research their destination’s coronavirus-related requirements ahead of time, Cameron said. “I can’t stress the need for research in advance of travel, enough.”
American Airlines, Philadelphia’s dominant air carrier, catalogs travel restrictions to Jamaica, Canada, Aruba, and other countries through its Sherpa travel tool online. “Our agents confirm that customers have all required travel documents at check-in [point of origin],” American spokesperson Andrew Trull said by email. “Those who do not have required documentation will not be allowed to travel.”
At the same time, Philadelphia International Airport does not check to see whether arriving passengers have tested negative for COVID-19.
Pennsylvania’s Health Department issued an updated order before Thanksgiving, requiring travelers coming from another state, and who are over age 11, to have evidence of a negative test result, or else quarantine for 14 days.
“We’re not enforcers. That’s not really our role,” Cameron said.
Setting up testing options for outward-bound passengers now could also facilitate the opening of more travel routes that have been restricted during the pandemic. In the future, ”this may be a requirement for us to reestablish European travel,” Cameron said.
And when more people are ready to travel again, coronavirus testing at PHL will already be established.
“This has been a lost year,” said Jefferson Health CEO Stephen Klasko. Heading into 2021, he said, “one of the big factors will be making it as easy as possible for people to be safe and lead a normal life.”
» READ MORE: The latest coronavirus guidelines in Philadelphia