COVID-19 Infectious Diseases Research

WestJet-YVR COVID-19 Study Shows Rapid Antigen Testing is Effective in Screening Travellers

Passenger receiving rapid antigen test at YVR airport
A passenger at YVR airport receives a rapid-antigen test as part of a research study into COVID and safety of air travel

The Vancouver Airport Authority and WestJet have released study findings today showing that rapid antigen testing is an effective, acceptable and cost-efficient method for screening travellers and contributes to safer and healthier air travel.

The findings were proven through the YVR-WestJet COVID-19 Testing Study, a research project led by the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Providence Health Care (Providence) alongside project sponsors, WestJet and the Vancouver Airport Authority.

Of 600 YVR passengers tested, all were COVID-negative

Over four months, from November 2020 through February 2021, nearly 600 departing passengers at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) were tested for COVID-19 using rapid antigen testing. All tests administered during this period were negative, leading researchers to conclude that transmissible infection in airline passengers departing from YVR is likely to be extremely low (less than one per cent). Methodology and study findings could contribute to a future testing framework for the broader travel industry.

Researchers from UBC and Providence were responsible for collecting samples in a ready-made testing station. Results gathered were further validated through PCR testing in a lab environment.

Dr. Don Sin, Co-principal Investigator and respirologist at Providence, says the findings “provide real-world evidence that rapid antigen testing is a highly effective way of screening for passengers who may be carrying the COVID virus. The results provide passengers with greater confidence of healthy air travel.” 

Test took 15 to 20 minutes

Many participants said the procedure was efficient, more comfortable than expected and instilled confidence about the safety of their travels. The research team found the test itself took approximately 15 to 20 minutes, resulting in minimal disruption to the overall travel experience.

The study, located at WestJet’s domestic check-in area at YVR, was open to WestJet guests who are residents of British Columbia, between the ages of 19 and 80, and who had not tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 90 days. Guests had to be flying domestically and testing was available on the day of travel only.

YVR’s CEO, Tamara Vrooman, says: “Data gathered will be used for future testing strategies for the aviation industry, adding another layer of science-based health protocols to help reopen travel in a safe and efficient manner and to restore confidence amongst travellers.”

“The findings from our study provide further evidence that this technology can be successfully deployed in an airport setting, and that rapid antigen testing performs surprisingly well – even in a low- prevalence population, such as air travelers,” says Dr. Marc Romney, co-principal investigator, clinical associate professor at UBC’s faculty of Medicine and medical leader for medical microbiology at virology at St. Paul’s Hospital. 

This story was adapted from a news release issued today by YVR and WestJet. For the full release, visit here.