American Airlines, British Airways, and oneworld have partnered to launch optional COVID-19 testing on select transatlantic flights from the United States to London-Heathrow. The goal is to show how testing can reopen international travel and eliminate quarantines, which has kept most people from traveling.
The COVID-19 testing trial
The tests are initially free and will be offered to eligible customers booked on the following flights beginning on November 25th:
- AA50 from Dallas (DFW) to London (LHR)
- BA114 from New York (JFK) to LHR
- BA268 from Los Angeles (LAX) to LHR
The plan is to further expand this to AA106 from JFK to LHR at a later date.
If you are on one of these flights, American Airlines and British Airways will reach out to you with instructions on how to volunteer. Each customer will take three tests in conjunction with the journey.
The first test is taken 72 hours before departure from the US. This is an at-home RT-PCR test provided by LetsGetChecked. Passengers at home will self-collect a nasal sample under the supervision of a medical professional via a virtual visit.
Then, after landing in LHR, participants will get a second test at the airport. The LAMP test, provided by Collinson, will be conducted by a medical professional collecting a nasal sample. The customer is then provided the third kit.
The third test kit is taken three days after arrival in the United Kingdom. This is again an at-home testing kit, but this one is a saliva sample.
The three-test approach is aimed at validating a customer’s negative status for COVID-19 throughout the travel journey. The airlines are also hoping to get an effective and practical testing interval. Meanwhile, the third test is intended to further confirm the results of the first two tests and demonstrate that one or two tests will be sufficient to allow travel to safely restart.
Note that, even if you test negative all three times, the UK government will still require a 14-day quarantine. This is unlike other cities, such as Calgary, which have allowed testing trial participants with negative test results to bypass quarantines.
CEO of American Airlines, Doug Parker, stated the following in a news release viewed by Simple Flying:
“American has already successfully introduced a pre-flight COVID-19 testing programme for customers travelling from the U.S. 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.”
Sean Doyle, CEO at British Airways, stated the following:
“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 travelers 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 traveling with confidence. The UK’s economic recovery depends on the swift reopening of its skies.”
Last but not least, CEO of oneworld, Rob Gurney, added the following:
“We believe that COVID-19 testing will play an important role in safely restarting international travel. A comprehensive testing program will provide governments the confidence to reduce or waive quarantine requirements and safely reopen their economies to international visitors, while further assuring customers that their health and well-being are protected.”
Overseeing the trial
American Airlines, British Airways, and oneworld came together to form a task force that will oversee the trial’s implementation. All three parties will closely monitor customer participation and share data with the US and UK governments, in addition to other stakeholders.
The ultimate goal
The United States and the United Kingdom are very closely linked. Trade between the two countries totals over $262 billion in a year. Airlines are key to maintaining that. Not to mention, routes out of London-Heathrow are some of the most profitable for carriers.
Before the crisis, American and British Airways together flew to over 30 destinations in the United States from London. The joint venture agreement between American and British Airways has already opened up plenty of new American destinations for nonstop London-Heathrow service (like Nashville and Charleston).
COVID-19 continues to spread across the world. As it does, border restrictions continue to hamper international long-haul travel, which has knock-on effects on airlines trying to stay afloat. Carriers are hoping that testing will prove key to reopening travel. While there has been chatter about travel corridors before, it remains unclear whether there will be any before the December holiday season rolls around, but airlines are still hopeful.
While any testing-based reopenings will likely look different from this trial and may come at a cost to consumers, having the option to travel may outweigh that cost for many travelers.
Are you going to take part in American and British Airways’ transatlantic testing trial? Let us know in the comments!