After the Air Force Ended Rapid COVID Testing at Patriot Express Ports, Hundreds Couldn't Fly

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Patriot Express service flight from Italy
Crew members prepare an aircraft for the first flight of the Patriot Express service from here since 2016 at Aviano Air Base, Italy, April 4, 2019. (Staff Sgt. Rebeccah Woodrow/U.S. Air Force)

The Air Force has ended on-site rapid COVID-19 testing at military-contracted commercial flight airports -- and some travelers haven't gotten used to the new protocols. Passengers now must obtain and present proof of a negative test, vaccination, waiver or recovery from COVID-19 before they will be allowed to board. 

The change went into effect July 15 for Patriot Express flights leaving out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Maryland, and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Washington, according to Air Mobility Command, or AMC, which oversees the charter flights. 

Since the testing was discontinued, approximately 300 scheduled passengers have been denied boarding because they didn't meet the current requirements, said Maj. Hope Cronin, a command spokeswoman. 

To avoid further problems, AMC is asking passengers to check health protection and traveler guidance, including adhering to current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. 

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"The appropriate COVID-19 documentation is a must-have requirement for travel, similar to official orders and a passport," the command said in a July 1 release. "It's critical that members and families arrive at the terminal with the correct paperwork to mitigate risk and ensure a smooth and healthy travel experience for all."

AMC stressed that travelers should give themselves enough time to receive necessary paperwork. Passengers also still must wear masks to comply with federal mandates.

Specific information can be found on the Defense Department's electronic foreign clearance guide web portal, according to the release. Passengers will be screened for symptoms, with both a verbal and written survey and a temperature check prior to boarding the aircraft.

Patriot Express flights are used by DoD personnel and military families traveling between duty locations, including overseas. Qualifying veterans, retirees and federal employees are given access to fly standby on a case-by-case basis.

Air Force medical members deployed to the Baltimore and Seattle airports administered more than 22,000 on-site COVID tests from November 2020 through July 15, AMC said. Troops and contractors who flew Patriot Express out of those locations also were subject to random testing during that time.

The Air Force also ended support services, such as coordinating lodging for members who test positive or display symptoms of COVID-19, last week, AMC said. 

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

Related: Flying Patriot Express? Expect Random COVID-19 Testing Soon

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