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High COVID-19 testing costs could stall international travel recovery

High COVID-19 testing costs could stall international travel recovery
High COVID-19 testing costs could stall international travel recovery
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Written by Harry Johnson

High costs for COVID-19 testing can put travel out of reach for individuals and families

  • Only France complied with WHO recommendation for the state to bear the cost of testing for travelers
  • The average minimum cost for testing was $90
  • The average maximum cost for testing was $208

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) called on governments to ensure that high costs for COVID-19 testing don’t put travel out of reach for individuals and families. To facilitate an efficient restart of international travel, COVID-19 testing must be affordable as well as timely, widely available and effective.

An IATA sampling of costs for PCR tests (the test most frequently required by governments) in 16 countries showed wide variations by markets and within markets. Findings include:

  • Of the markets surveyed, only France complied with the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation for the state to bear the cost of testing for travelers.
  • Of the 15 markets where there is a cost for PCR testing to the individual
  • The average minimum cost for testing was $90.
  • The average maximum cost for testing was $208.

Even taking the average of the low-end costs, adding PCR testing to average airfares would dramatically increase the cost of flying for individuals. Pre-crisis, the average one-way airline ticket, including taxes and charges, cost $200 (2019 data). A $90 PCR test raises the cost by 45% to $290. Add another test on arrival and the one-way cost would leap by 90% to $380. Assuming that two tests are needed in each direction, the average cost for an individual return-trip could balloon from $400 to $760. 

The impact of the costs of COVID-19 testing on family travel would be even more severe. Based on average ticket prices ($200) and average low-end PCR testing ($90) twice each way, a journey for four that would have cost $1,600 pre-COVID, could nearly double to $3,040—with $1440 being testing costs.

“As travel restrictions are lifted in domestic markets, we are seeing strong demand. The same can be expected in international markets. But that could be perilously compromised by testing costs—particularly PCR testing. Raising the cost of any product this significantly will stifle demand. The impact will be greatest for short haul trips (up to 1,100 km), with average fares of $105, the tests will cost more than the flight. That’s not what you want to propose to travelers as we emerge from this crisis. Testing costs must be better managed. That’s critical if governments want to save tourism and transport jobs; and avoid limiting travel freedoms to the wealthy,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.