American Airlines and British Airways have launched an optional coronavirus trial test on select flights between the United States and London Heathrow (LHR).
According to a release, the objective of this and other trials is to validate that a pre-departure test provides a high level of certainty of a passenger being COVID-19 negative, with the ultimate goal of relaxing US and UK border restrictions, including the 14-day quarantine and entry into the U.S.
Per current UK policies, international travelers arriving in the UK from the U.S. must self-isolate for 14 days even if they have tested negative for COVID-19.
The tests will be free and will initially be offered to eligible customers booked on the following flights ("AA" = American Airlines, "BA" = British Airways):
- AA50 departing Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) to LHR
- BA114 departing New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to LHR
- BA268 from Los Angeles (LAX) to LHR
The test will be expanded to AA106 from JFK to LHR, at a date TBA.
Eligible customers will be contacted by the airlines with instructions on how to volunteer. Each participant will take three tests; if they test positive, they should reschedule or cancel their flight.
The trial for each individual passenger will comprise:
- Initial at-home test taken 72 hours before departure from the U.S.
- Second test, upon arrival at London Heathrow Airport
- Third test, taken three days after arrival in the UK
The first test is an at-home RT-PCR test provided by LetsGetChecked. Customers self-collect a nasal sample, under the supervision of medical professionals via a virtual visit.
The second test takes place after landing at LHR. The LAMP test, provided by Collinson, involves the collection of a nasal sample by a medical professional. After that test is completed, cusomers get a kit for the third test.
The third test is like the first: an at-home test in which customers self-collect a saliva sample, three days after arrival in to the United Kingdom. This test is intended to confirm the results of the first two tests, and to demonstrate that one or two tests are sufficient.
A task force comprising Oneworld member airline representatives and independent medical experts are overseeing implementation of the trial. They'll share results with the U.S. and UK Governments and other stakeholders.
Prior to the pandemic, American Airlines and British Airways flew to more than 30 destinations in the U.S. from London, including BA's weekly nonstop from Austin-Begstrom International Airport to LHR. Today, they're flying a fraction of that figure: Previously, they were doing 111 flights a week from London to New York; that number is now 14 flights per week combined between the two cities.
American has already introduced a pre-flight COVID-19 testing program for customers travelling from the U.S. to international destinations across the Caribbean and Latin America. The UK is a priority, says American Airlines chairman & CEO Doug Parker in a statement.
"The UK is a critically important business and leisure destination that our customers want to visit," Parker says. "We believe the results provided by this trial will be vital for reopening transatlantic travel safely."
And British Airways CEO Sean Doyle says that this model follows the example set by other countries such as Germany.
"We know people want to travel but our skies remain all but closed and the UK is being left behind," Doyle says. "Major economies like Germany are adopting testing to replace quarantine."
"We need the UK Government to introduce a system that allows travelers to take reliable, affordable tests before departure, so they are confident that fellow passengers are COVID-free," Doyle says. "For people arriving from countries with high infection rates, a further test on arrival should then release them from quarantine."
Data from industry body IATA suggests the risk of contracting COVID-19 on aircraft is low: 44 cases of COVID-19 recorded as linked to flights since the start of 2020.
A study issued on October 27 by Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that face coverings are the most essential measure to reduce COVID-19 transmission while flying.