Heathrow Airport Begins Pre-Departure COVID Test Program

Heathrow Airport has launched a pre-departure rapid testing program for COVID-19. The tests will be available for passengers flying to Hong Kong and Italy from Terminals 2 and 5. The cost of the test is currently borne by passengers, with tests needing to be prebooked.

London Heathrow Airport, COVID-19 tests, Departing passengers
Heathrow Airport is to begin offering COVID-19 tests to some departing passengers. Photo: Getty Images

Around the world, a patchwork of differing entry requirements exists at each border. While some countries require everybody to quarantine, others are more selective in their approach, perhaps even allowing passengers to bypass quarantine with a negative COVID-19 test. Heathrow has had testing centers set up for arrivals for a while now. However, it has been yet to use them.

Testing on departure

As of today, Heathrow Airport is now allowing passengers traveling to both Italy and Hong Kong to take a COVID-19 test at the airport before their flight departs. These two countries require passengers to prove they took a negative test before departure.

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The tests will set each passenger back by £80 and must be pre-booked ahead of arrival at the airport. Currently, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, and Virgin Atlantic fly from London Heathrow to Hong Kong and Italy. As these airlines are spread across Heathrow’s two terminals, the airport is offering testing at both.

London Heathrow Airport, COVID-19 tests, Departing passengers
The airport’s rapid tests will return results within 60 minutes. Photo: Heathrow Airport

Heathrow has partnered with Collinson and Swissport to open the rapid testing facilities. The airport states that it is offering LAMP and Antigen tests. These are much faster than typical RT-PCR tests, which must be sent to a lab for analysis. As such, the results should be available within 60 minutes.

Heathrow Airport will keep the test centers open for four weeks on a trial basis. Depending on the demand seen from passengers and airlines, the airport may extend the test center’s operations or decide it is not worth continuing with.

Commenting on the center, John Holland-Kaye, the airport’s CEO, said,

“Ultimately, we need a Common International Standard for pre-departure testing, and we welcome the UK government’s recent announcement that it wants to take a global lead in establishing this.”

British Airways, COVID-19, Testing
Other countries have been offering COVID-19 tests for months. Photo: Centogene

Still no inbound testing

While offering outbound tests is a step forward for Heathrow Airport, it is still unable to provide inbound COVID-19 testing. The airport has had the facilities to offer such tests up and ready to open for several months. However, it is waiting on approval from the UK government to begin a trial of allowing quarantine free arrivals with a negative test result.

So far, the UK Government has been unwilling to give such permission. As a result, there has been no point in opening the test center, as passengers would have to pay for a result that would be pointless in most cases, as they’d have to quarantine for 14 days regardless.

Would you make use of the new pre-departure testing service? Let us know what you think and why in the comments!