British Airways is offering free Covid tests for passengers on selected transatlantic flights as part of a trial involving its oneworld partner American Airlines.
The airlines say they’re attempting to demonstrate how Covid testing can remove the need for quarantine on arrival in the UK and help to re-open the US travel market.
Volunteer passengers will be tested before, during and after their journey and their results monitored by a taskforce consisting of airline representatives and independent medical experts.
The free tests will initially be offered on selected BA flights to London Heathrow from New York JFK and Los Angeles and on selected American Airlines’ flights from Dallas Fort Worth to Heathrow from 25 November.
They will later be offered to passengers on selected AA flights from JFK to Heathrow.
Eligible customers will be contacted by the airlines with instructions on how to volunteer.
The first test, to be taken 72 hours before departure from the US, is an at-home RT-PCR test provided by LetsGetChecked. Customers will self-collect a nasal sample, under the supervision of medical professionals online.
After landing at LHR, participating customers will take a second test at the airport. The LAMP test, provided by Collinson, involves the collection of a nasal sample by a medic. They will also be given a home testing kit to be used three days after arrival in the UK.
The airlines say the three-test approach aims to validate a customer’s negative status for Covid-19 throughout their 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,” they said in a statement.
A task force comprising oneworld member airline representatives and independent medical experts are overseeing the implementation of the trial. American Airlines, British Airways and oneworld will closely monitor customer participation, they said.
The task force will share aggregated results with the UK and US governments and other stakeholders ‘to demonstrate the essential role that Covid-19 testing programmes can play in safely restarting travel’.
Current travel restrictions mean that BA and AA are operating just 14 flights a week between London and New York, down from a maximum of 111 flights a week before the pandemic.
Heathrow is now exploring whether trials can be introduced on more routes between the airport and the US.
Chairman and Chief Executive of American Airlines Doug Parker said: “American has already successfully introduced a pre-flight COVID-19 testing programme for customers travelling from the US to international destinations across the Caribbean and Latin America.
“We have received tremendous feedback from our customers in response to testing, as it provides peace of mind for safe and enjoyable travel.
“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.”
BA Chief Executive Sean Doyle added:”We know people want to travel but our skies remain all but closed and the UK is being left behind. Major economies like Germany are adopting testing to replace quarantine.
“We need the UK government to introduce a system that allows travellers to take reliable, affordable tests before departure so they are confident that fellow passengers are Covid-free.
“For people arriving from countries with high infection rates, a further test on arrival should then release them from 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.”