Passengers travelling with British Airways will be tested for Covid-19 in a bid to prove that the UK’s quarantine policy should be scrapped.
The airline has announced plans to trial a voluntary testing regime in partnership with American Airlines, which will affect hundreds of travellers on selected routes from the US to London Heathrow.
Three tests in total
Passengers will be tested 72 hours before their flight departs, as well as on arrival at the west London airport, and again three days later.
However, those who take part in the pilot will still be required to follow existing quarantine rules, even if they receive negative results for all three tests.
It is hoped that the data will show that a single test 72 hours before a flight is “robust” enough to allow the 14 day quarantine requirement for international travellers arriving in the UK to be lifted.
Prior to the pandemic, British Airways and American Airlines flew up to 111 flights a week from London to New York, but this has since dropped to just 14.
British Airways’ parent company, IAG, reported a pre-tax loss of 6.2 billion euros (£5.6 billion) for the nine months to the end of September. This compared with a 2.3 billion euros (£2.1 billion) pre-tax profit during the same period a year ago.
Is the UK being ‘left behind’?
Sean Doyle, who was appointed chief executive of British Airways in October, said there have been “very minimal reports” of transmission of Covid-19 on commercial flights, and insisted that air travel is “safe.”
He claimed the UK is being “left behind” as countries, such as Germany, adopt testing to replace quarantine requirements.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps launched a taskforce last month to develop methods to reduce the 14 day self-isolation period with a “test and release regime,” although this would still involve a quarantine period of at least a week.
Mr Doyle warned that such a move would be insufficient for air travel to return to 2019 levels.
He said, “It doesn’t quite cut it. Without a pre-flight testing regime, we will be locked in a stop-start cycle where consumers are unclear about what the rules of the game are and won’t be in a position to travel with confidence.
“We have the availability of testing in a way that doesn’t actually take away from the testing capacity of the health providers. We’ve got facilities set up at Heathrow.
“So the solution is staring us in the face. I just think we need clarity of policy. We can create certainty and we can create a framework within which people can travel and within which the economy can open up.”
When does the trial start?
The pilot will start on 25 November, from airports in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas, and other carriers may join the scheme in the coming weeks.
British Airways said it will share the results of the pilot with both the UK and US governments.
Any passengers who test positive for the virus will be able to reschedule their travel free of charge.