United Airlines hailed completion of the first New York to London flight with pre-departure Covid tests on all passengers as “a milestone” on Tuesday.

The flight departed Newark on Monday night, the first of three weekly flights in a four-week trial of pre-departure tests provided free to all passengers over two years old.

Aaron McMillan, United managing director for operational policy, told Travel Weekly: “The flight from Newark was a milestone for us – at the forefront of testing to free up travel and relax quarantine restrictions.”

He described the trial as “part of a layered approach” to Covid safety, but said: “Pre-departure testing is exciting because of the opportunities it presents.”

The flight had less than 50 passengers on board, but McMillan said: “We had great customer feedback. Things went really smoothly at Newark.

“The test takes 15-20 minutes and with 40-50 people the process worked really well. We opened testing three hours before departure and customers had the opportunity to make an appointment.”

He said: “We’ve seen a lot of interest from governments and will be tracking our progress and collecting customer feedback to share with the US and UK governments.”

United has offered pre-departure tests to passengers departing San Francisco for Hawaii since mid-October, but passengers must pay for these tests.

McMillan declined to disclose the cost of the tests at Newark. But if the programme is extended and passengers required to pay, he said: “The cost will depend on the type of test. We are still working through this commercially.”

The tests used in the trial are rapid molecular tests produced by Abbott and administered by Premise Health. McMillan described them as “very robust, highly sensitive and approved by the US Federal Drug Administration (FDA)”.

Passengers on the United flight remain subject to UK quarantine requirements regardless of their test result.