FlyerTalk Takes the JetBlue COVID-19 Test: Spitting Truth

FlyerTalk Takes the JetBlue COVID-19 Test: Spitting Truth

Joe Cortez

In the interest of learning more about the COVID-19 exams offered by the airlines, FlyerTalk ordered the at-home Vault Health COVID-19 exam offered to JetBlue flyers prior to departure. We documented our experiences – and the results – to see how airlines are working to earn the flying public’s trust.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has discouraged flyers from traveling to their regular final destinations for a number of reasons. From rolling “safer at home” orders, to fear of contracting the novel Coronavirus that leads to the disease, the number of passengers aboard aircraft has diminished significantly this year.

As a strategy to bring flyers back to aircraft, airlines are starting to offer at-home COVID-19 exams for flyers concerned about their health, or flying to destinations with 14-day quarantine restrictions. JetBlue has partnered with Vault Health to offer COVID-19 tests to flyers for a price. To learn more about the experience, we purchased and took the at-home exam and learned what it takes to get tested prior to travel.

The Vault Health COVID-19 Test: Spitting in a Vial

Coming from the JetBlue landing page, purchasing the test was an easy experience. I was asked to provide my personally-identifiable information, information about my exposure, and questions about symptoms that I may be facing. I was also asked to upload a copy of my photo ID, and acknowledge a disclaimer that the kit will only test me to determine if I have COVID-19 at that moment, and is not an antibody test.

The Vault Health exam came to me within one day via UPS. Delivered to my door, the small box shows up in a plain envelope, offering discretion to those who don’t want to advertise their intentions. Inside the kit is a brief instruction pamphlet, a sealed vial, sealed package, and alcohol wipe. In order to take the test, I needed to be connected to a registered nurse at Vault Health to observe and walk me through the exam.

The Vault Health COVID-19 exam, unboxed. Photo: Joe Cortez for FlyerTalk

To start, I was asked to confirm my kit information, including the serial numbers from the vial itself, and the UPS tracking number on the return envelope. I was also asked to confirm that I had not eaten, drank, smoked, or chewed anything in the last 30 minutes. From there, it took 10 minutes to be connected to the RN via Zoom.

After some polite greetings, the nurse asked me to confirm my personally identifiable information, confirming my photo and details from my photo ID. Then, I was instructed to spit into the tube repeatedly, until they had collected enough saliva.

Never in my life had I had so much trouble collecting and depositing spit into a cup. For what felt like 15 minutes, I repeatedly spit into this small vial in front of a nurse, who was encouraging me along the way. One of her tips for future exams: If you drink a cup of water an hour before the exam, it’s easier to continually spit.

Eventually, I filled the vial with enough of my saliva to be sampled. I was instructed to take the funnel off the top, and put on the cap filled with preservatives. The cap broke, releasing the blue liquid into my saliva. As instructed, I gave it a vigorous shake, sealed it in the specimen envelope, and then sealed it in the box it came in and dropped it into the UPS envelope. As a final precaution, I was asked to wipe the exterior of the UPS envelope with the alcohol swab.

The Vault Health COVID-19 Test Results

Vault promised that the exam would come back to me within 48 hours, with one of three results: positive, negative, or inconclusive. I was able to access the results on the Vault website, and was e-mailed a report to submit to my insurance company for reimbursement (which was not applicable for my purposes). Thankfully, the exam came back negative.

The test results. Image courtesy; Joe Cortez for FlyerTalk

Overall Thoughts on the Vault Health COVID-19 Exam

Of the two exams, the Vault Health exam was the least intrusive of the two. Although spitting into a vial in front of an RN can be awkward, it was nothing weirder than anything that goes on at a doctor’s office. If given a choice, this one was the easier to take.

According to the State of Hawaii, Vault Health is one of ten tests accepted for the pre-travel test program. If I were to book travel after Oct. 15, 2020, registered myself in Hawaii’s Safe Travel system and re-took the test with a negative result, I am confident I would be able to bypass the 14-day quarantine.

Our COVID-19 Test Methodology

To maintain journalistic integrity, FlyerTalk purchased each at-home COVID-19 exam. The Vault Health exam cost $143, reflecting a discount of $7 for JetBlue flyers.

The exams from LetsGetChecked and Vault Health were opened and taken on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2020. The author – a 36-year-old, 260-pound male with diagnosed hypertension and mental health concerns who has had previous exposure to a person with COVID-19 – took both exams within minutes of each other. Both exams were then packaged and dropped off at a UPS location to be shipped to their respective labs within one hour of completion.

FlyerTalk has reached out to United Airlines to purchase a COVID-19 exam from their at-home provider, Color. Once we obtain their test, we will publish those results as well.

While every attempt was made to correctly take and describe each test, your experience and results may vary.