American Airlines, British Airways and oneworld are to launch an optional Covid-19 medical-based testing trial from selected airports in the United States to London Heathrow, in a strategy to reopen international travel. The plan is to demonstrate how Covid-19 testing will remove the current government imposed fourteen day quarantine for passengers arriving in the UK.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, together American Airlines and British Airways flew to more than 30 destinations in the United States from London. Today, the carriers are flying a fraction of that figure. On the London-New York route alone, the carriers operated up to 111 flights a week; they currently operate around fourteen flights per week combined, between the two cities.
From 25 November, free Covid-19 tests will be offered to eligible customers booked on selected American Airlines flights departing Dallas/Fort Worth to London Heathrow; British Airways flights departing New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport to London; and British Airways flights from Los Angeles to London. The test will be expanded to other flights in due course.
Eligible customers booked on the trial flights will be contacted by American Airlines and British Airways with instructions on how to volunteer. Each customer participating in the trial will take three tests related to their journey. The first test, to be taken 72 hours before departure from the US, is an at-home RT-PCR test provided by LetsGetChecked. If a customer tests positive with this test, they will need to reschedule or cancel their travel.
On arrival at London Heathrow, participating customers will take their second test at the airport. The LAMP test, provided by Collinson, involves the collection of a nasal sample by a medical professional. After this test is completed, a home testing kit for the third test will be provided to the customer to use three days after arrival in the United Kingdom.
The three-test approach aims to validate a customer’s negative status for Covid-19 throughout the travel journey and will provide insight into the most effective and practical testing interval. The third test is intended to further 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 of oneworld member airline representatives and independent medical experts are to oversee the implementation of the trial. The task force will share aggregated results with the US and UK Governments to demonstrate the essential role that Covid-19 testing programs can play in safely restarting travel. Based on current UK Government policies, international travellers arriving in the UK from the US are required to self-isolate for fourteen days even if they have tested negative for Covid-19.
British Airways and American Airlines have worked with Heathrow on implementation of the trial in to Terminal 5 and as a result Heathrow is now exploring whether trials can be introduced on more routes between the airport and the United States.
All partners in this new transatlantic trial seem confident of its success. American Airlines has already successfully introduced a pre-flight Covid-19 testing program for customers travelling from the United States to Caribbean and Latin American destinations. Doug Parker, Chairman and Chief Executive of American Airlines, says that 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.”