New British Airways CEO Wants COVID Testing Before Departure

Sean Doyle made his first public appearance in his new capacity as British Airways’ CEO. He urged the government to introduce a pre-departure COVID testing regime in place of current quarantine regulations, which he says are hampering the recovery of the economy. He also requested a “fundamental rethink” for air travel between the UK and the US.

British Airways, Long Haul, Fleet Status
The new boss of BA is calling for an urgent pre-flight testing regime. Photo: Getty Images

Reliable pre-flight tests key to reassurance

In his first speech since taking over the role, British Airways’ new CEO, Sean Doyle, called for an immediate introduction of comprehensive pre-departure COVID-testing. Delivering the keynote address at the “Airlines 2050: Beyond the Crisis” digital conference this morning, the new boss at BA said,

“We believe the best way to reassure people is to introduce a reliable and affordable test before flying. For the UK, this approach reduces the stress on NHS testing systems within the UK and on policing the quarantine system.”

The former Aer Lingus chief executive further stated that following the recent investigation by IATA, which showed as few as 44 cases of COVID-19 linked to onboard transmission since the beginning of the year, he believes the public health risks from flying at this time are low.

New British Airways CEO Wants COVID Testing Before Departure
Sean Doyle, formerly of Aer Lingus, believed the UK quarantine scheme is hindering the economy from bouncing back. Photo: Aer Lingus

Test-and-release not enough

Mr Doyle furthermore expressed concerns about the impact current quarantine regulations are having and will continue to have on the UK economy. Doyle stated,

“We need to get the economy moving again, and this just isn’t possible when you are asking people to quarantine for 14 days. It is our view that even if that quarantine period is reduced to say seven days, people won’t travel here and the UK will get left behind.”

The seven days to which he is referring could be the new quarantine time frame under a plan for a new testing program. As announced by the UK’s Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, last week, it would allow travelers to take a COVID test one week after arrival. If the test comes back negative, they may end their isolation.

Private health care providers would perform the tests, and travelers would pay for them themselves. No official start date for the scheme has been decided.

British Airways Boeing 747
BA’s Heathrow to JFK route is usually the world’s most profitable. Photo: Getty Images

World’s most profitable route in near-hibernation

The airline and its CEO are understandably keen on getting traffic between the UK and the US back up and running in earnest. Under normal circumstances, British Airways operates the world’s most profitable route between London Heathrow and New York’s JFK.

When OAG compiled its list for 2018-2019, the route earned BA over $1.1 billion. Currently, the carrier is burning through close to $30 million per day and operating only two daily departures on its billion-dollar route, compared to a pre-crisis 12.

“We need a fundamental rethink. Air connectivity between the UK and the USA is fundamental,” Mr Doyle said.

Sean Doyle recently took over as chief executive of the British flag carrier after almost two years in the same position at IAG stablemate Aer Lingus. He superseded Alex Cruz, who had held the position since 2016.