By Bev Fearis, published 18/11/20
British Airways, American Airlines and oneworld are to run a Covid-19 testing trial on selected flights from the US to Heathrow later this month.
They hope it will show governments on both sides of the Atlantic how passenger testing can reopen international travel and remove the need for passengers to quarantine on arrival.
The free tests will initially be offered to eligible customers booked on flight AA50 from Dallas, flight BA114 from New York JFK and flight BA268 from Los Angeles, starting on November 25 and running until mid-December.
The test will be expanded to flight AA106 from JFK with a launch date to be shared closer to the time.
Eligible customers booked on these flights will be contacted by the airlines with instructions on how to volunteer and each passenger who chooses to take part will take three tests.
The first – an at-home RT-PCR test provided by LetsGetChecked – is to be taken 72 hours before departure from the U.S.
After landing at Heathrow, passengers will proceed to their second test – a LAMP test provided by Collinson.
Once this test is completed, a kit for the third test will be provided to the customer offering an at-home testing option through the self-collection of a saliva sample, which is taken three days after arrival in the UK.
The third test is intended to confirm the results of the first two tests to demonstrate that one or two tests will be sufficient to allow travel to safely restart.
A task force made up of oneworld member airline representatives and independent medical experts will share aggregated results with the U.S. and UK Governments and other stakeholders to demonstrate the essential role that testing programmes can play in bringing back key transatlantic business routes.
Pre-Covid, American and BA flew up to 111 flights a week from London to New York but now they operate just 14 flights per week combined on the route.
Heathrow is now exploring whether trials can be introduced on more routes between the airport and the U.S.
BA Chief Executive Sean Doyle said: “We know people want to travel but our skies remain all but closed and the UK is being left behind. Major economies like Germany’s are adopting testing to replace quarantine.
“We are confident this approach would open routes, stimulate economies and get people travelling with confidence. The UK’s economic recovery depends on the swift reopening of its skies.”
American Airlines Chairman and Chief Executive Doug Parker added: “The UK is a critically important business and leisure destination that our customers want to visit. We believe the results provided by this trial will be vital for reopening transatlantic travel safely.”
Meanwhile, United customers arriving into Heathrow from Newark on Monday on flight UA14 were the first to experience the airline’s free transatlantic Covid-19 testing pilot programme.
The airline provided rapid tests to every passenger over two years old and all crew on board, free of charge, guaranteeing everyone on the flight tested negative prior to departure.
“These flights are a good proof-of-concept for governments around the world that are considering making testing part of the travel experience,” said Toby Enqvist, Chief Customer Officer for United.
“Expanding our testing efforts with pilot programmes like this one not only helps guarantee passengers onboard test negative for Covid-19, it also adds another element to our layered approach to safety and demonstrates a way to work within quarantines to key international destinations.”
Last week the first Lufthansa flight, on which all passengers previously tested negative for Covid-19, took off for Hamburg from Munich
For more on traveller testing, see the latest issue of The Business Travel Magazine.