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United can now deny boarding if there's 'reason to believe' you were exposed to the coronavirus

May 05, 2020
4 min read
United can now deny boarding if there's 'reason to believe' you were exposed to the coronavirus
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Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, United Airlines has adjusted the passenger experience to maximize social distancing and minimize your interactions with other people.

Specifically, the Chicago-based carrier has started back-to-front boarding, curtailed most of its inflight food and beverage service and implemented new and improved cabin sanitization protocols, though it continues to fall short of peers Alaska, Delta and Southwest, which are capping passenger bookings to guarantee extra space.

Last week UA joined most major U.S. carriers in requiring that passengers wear face coverings in line with Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines.

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On Monday, the carrier updated its Contract of Carriage to include a new provision around the customers that it can refuse to transport.

Specifically, the following bolded changes were made to the section around passenger safety:

Passengers who are incapable of completing a flight safely, without requiring extraordinary medical assistance during the flight, and Passengers who appear to have symptoms of or have a communicable disease (or there is reason to believe there was exposure to a communicable disease) or other condition that could pose a direct threat to the health or safety of themselves or others on the flight, or who refuse a medical screening for such disease or condition, whether suspected or actual.

This update to the conditions of flying with United specifically allow the carrier to refuse transport if it has "reason to believe" that you were exposed to the coronavirus. These changes permit United to remove you solely based on its suspicion.

In explaining these changes, a United spokesperson exclusively told TPG that "this update was made to help us better protect the health and safety of our customers and crew, and was made in line with our new requirement that all United employees and passengers wear a face covering while onboard the aircraft that went into effect May 4."

It'll be interesting to see how (and if) these new changes take effect. Perhaps the carrier is setting itself up to have a legal basis to deny carriage to those who don't submit themselves to airport coronavirus testing.

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United economy class on a Boeing 787 (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

As airlines look to recover from the pandemic, they're attempting to reassure the flying public that it's once again safe to take to the skies. Mandated, on-the-spot coronavirus testing could become a thing of the future, much like airport security.

Emirates has already implemented COVID-19 testing on select flights. Passengers are all screened before departure to ensure that no one onboard is carrying the virus.

Additionally, many countries don't want to see a second wave of coronavirus cases. For instance, Austria has a policy that states that arriving passengers must go into a 14-day quarantine if they don't present a health certificate showing a negative COVID-19 test result that's no more than four days old. If you don't have a recent COVID-19 test, the Vienna airport now offers on-demand testing to help you avoid a quarantine.

Related: How US airlines are handling distancing, masks and more

As United begins to ramp up international travel, some of its destinations may require COVID-19 testing. The update to the Contract of Carriage allows the carrier to require such testing in order to be permitted to board, even if the carrier only has "reason to believe" you might carry the disease.

United Polaris class on a Boeing 787 (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

This wasn't the only change to be included in the Contract of Carriage. United also formalized its face covering mandate by adding a clause to the list of passengers that it can refuse:

Passengers who refuse to wear a mask or face covering while at the airport and/or onboard UA and United Express flights if UA or United Express believe, in their sole discretion, that a failure to wear such a mask or facial covering may pose a risk to the health or safety of others.

All in all, we're living in unprecedented times. It might not be too long before you're required to take a COVID-19 test in order to board a United flight.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
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The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

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  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023