I thought travel was supposed to be fun?
There’s not all that much fun about the lead up to the day of travel right now. Although pre-flight covid-19 testing measures in place are vital for the moment, and ultimately a small price to pay, they come with a myriad of new worries, stresses and costs.
For one: you can’t even guarantee you’re going until hours before you leave. And even to reach that point, you need to get a few things right. Which test? Is the testing service reliable and timely? Can I take it from home? Ugh!
These are all questions I bemoaned for days, even weeks before I was due to the travel to the USA, which requires a negative covid-19 laboratory test taken within 3 days prior to the day of flight. After extensive research, I settled on the Halo RT-PCR ‘spit’ test, and between price and ease of use, I am now a big fan.
Halo Verify PCR “Spit” Test
Traveling together with my partner, I knew covid-19 testing would be a considerable expense added onto travel right now, with every number at each juncture times two.
After a Google search turned up a large number of PCR tests from £199 and up, mostly from ads, I decided to check out the testing partners listed on the British Airways and Virgin Atlantic websites, which I remembered also often include a discount.
There, I found quite a few options at the £120 price point either for at home test you mail in, or in person clinicians, but one service, Halo Verify, fit the bill in terms of ease, test accuracy and price point. I paused only because it sounded a bit too good to be true.
The Halo Verify RT-PCR “spit” test retails for £89 ($125), and you can take it at home, with 24-48 hour turnaround. British Airways has a publicly available 15% discount code which I took advantage of, bringing cost down to £74 each. All delivery and pickup fees are included.
In my experience, I ordered the Halo Verify test mid day one day and it turned up the next day as promised. I took the test Monday, and my official lab results were returned before 6AM Wednesday.
Taking The Halo RT-PCR Spit Test
Halo’s RT-CPR covid-19 test is a “spit” test, where you spit into a tube, so it’s far less invasive than some others, and purported to be ‘world beating’ in accuracy. That’s a bold statement, but one which seems to be backed up by the scientific community.
You can’t eat, drink, vape or smoke for 30 minutes prior to test, and it advocates to be hydrated beforehand. I had my coffee at 7AM, had some water at 7:29AM and then took my test just after 8AM. Be prepared to do a fair bit of spitting.
After spitting into the tube and removing the funnel, you screw the cap back on, wipe it down and reseal it into the reusable delivery envelop, after noting the barcode details on the box and on the tube.
Pay Attention To Travel Testing Requirement Details
PCR tests are regarded to be far more accurate and sensitive to detecting smaller doses of virus, which is why they’re preferred by most governments as a pre-travel requirement. Some countries demand that testing take place in a lab, and do not allow for tests that are taken at home, but are processed in a lab. Be sure to find that detail before travel.
For my travel to the USA, I confirmed via the CDC website that the Halo PCR “Spit” test would comply with all standards and requirements – it definitely does. The US CDC is currently accepting LAMP or PCR tests, and “at home” tests do qualify.
The key was the presence of an official lab report, and that the sample be tested in a professional lab, which Halo does. The negative certificate I’ve received for travel says nothing about the sample being taken at home, just a bit about the approved test lab where the sample was processed.
If your travel destinations specifically advises against validity of home test samples, this test obviously does not work, though there’s not much to indicate it’s otherwise. Tools such as the IATA Travel Centre or official government resources from the country you are visiting should spell out specific needs, just like the US Centers For Disease Control site offers.
Why I Chose Halo And An At Home Test
Travel is complex enough right now, without needing to go to an airport a day or two before to take a test. I also live about 45 minutes outside of London, so most locations are relative hassle.
Halo Verify’s PCR test for travel or work is also available nationwide to the best of my knowledge, with next day delivery of the test just about anywhere. That’s super helpful for people who aren’t near a major hub.
The thought of an accurate test arriving on my doorstep and being picked up from my doorstep also felt like the most secure way to get this done, to avoid social contact in every way possible in preparation for flight. But really, it was mostly about not adding time and hassle to the day of travel experience, before a long flight with a 1 year old.
In the UK, pharmacies including Boots have a variety of locations where you can book an in person test for only about £30-£50 more, around £100-£120, but I didn’t want to find a location, drive to location – you get the point. Just mentioning it as an option.
How I Got My Pre-Travel Covid-19 Test Result
The arrival of the test was reliable, the instructions and app to take the test were idiot proof, a test which I regularly put to its limits, and the results were delivered within the timeline mentioned. My sample left Monday, and between midnight Tuesday and 6AM Wednesday results were in for both.
The Halo PCR test result comes via email and in the app and mobile browser in two forms. One is a PDF to present at airline check in, stating the result given, the time the test was taken, the lab it was processed in and the supervising physician of the lab. The other is a barcode, which can be used to scan into things like offices or venues with a green “tick” to confirm the safe result.
Things Halo Could Improve
I’m passionate about one thing right now, and that’s travel getting back on its feet safely, without making it such a hassle that people bow out. I loved my Halo covid-19 testing experience and in retrospect, picking a provider and waiting was the worst part.
There are however a few changes which could make the service without fault. For one, specifying a collection window, rather than being randomly assigned one. Second, a better Android experience. Here’s why that matters.
The USA allows pre-flight tests to be taken in the 3 days before the day of departure, and this is not based on hours. If you fly Friday, a test any time from Tuesday onward is fine. However, many country restrictions are based on a 72 hour clock regarding the time your first flight leaves.
Knowing that my results were absolutely delivered within 48 hours of test, I could’ve tested a day later and avoided this clock window, but only if my flight wasn’t first thing in the morning.
For example, for a Friday PM departure, I could’ve tested and sent off my sample on Wednesday, knowing I should get the lab results back by 6AM Thursday, with a cool 6+ hours to spare for the result to come in before check in. If my flight time was first thing in the morning though, I’d be screwed.
The distinction matters for morning flights, or those who don’t want to stress up until the morning of travel. My partners test results arrived at 535AM, at which point a 6AM flight would’ve already closed its doors, and checkin would’ve been denied without the test result available prior.
With hope, countries will move to the slightly broader 3 day rule, rather than based on a departure time and 72 hour window set from then. If they do, that’ll solve Halo’s test collection time issue, which impacts when you can take the sample.
Mobile Experience For Android
The last little issue was the mobile experience on Android. It was almost perfect except that you need to manually enter your barcode on most Android browsers, rather than the Apple app, which uses your camera.
I’m tech savvy enough to know that I didn’t miss a “allow access to camera” option, and it was ultimately fine after triple checking I was entering the correct numbers, but just added a bit of heightened alert to what was otherwise painless.
The “you’ve completed this successfully” wasn’t as clear as it could’ve been, so I tried to reenter the tube number, at which point it said I had already done so successfully. It’s rather meaningless in the scheme of things and had no impact on timing or success, but with everyone on edge adjusting to the ‘new norm’, these improvements could be big time.
Peace of mind: Heathrow has on site covid-19 testing which currently has wide open availability, so I always knew I had a backup plan. If testing failed to deliver a result in time, or due to a faulty sample, I planned to use the facilities either the night before, or the morning of. Fortunately for my time and wallet, it was not needed.
I’ll Use Halo Again For Sure
All in all, between being by far one of the most affordable and accurate options and not needing to leave my house or come in indoor contact with another soul to deliver my results, I’ll do this again without hesitation.
I’d be hard pressed to believe there’s better in the UK right now, and with current £210 testing costs per person for an arrival into the UK right now, I’ll save every penny I can on the way out. Halo is a part of Volt Labs, and appears to have a connection with UCL.
I’m a fan, and I’d recommend the experience whole heartedly to anyone whose travel is to a destination where this type of testing is allowed. In a world of “paid influencers”, I want to mention that GSTP paid full price for the test, and no one at Halo was made aware that the test would receive coverage, or of my identity. See you in the skies.