Virgin Partners With Rival BA For Passenger Vaccination Status Trial

Virgin Atlantic and British Airways are partnering to prove to the United Kingdom Government that they can check a passenger’s vaccination status ahead of travel. Hopefully, the trial will support a scheme to stop vaccinated passengers from needing to quarantine on arrival in the country.

British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Vaccination Trial
British Airways is partnering with Virgin Atlantic for a vaccination status trial. Photo: Getty Images

Virgin Atlantic and British Airways are typically seen as rivals. One only needs to think of when Richard Brandson commandeered the Heathrow Concorde model or the airline’s campaign to become a second flag carrier. However, it seems that the old saying “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is valid here. While nobody is really an enemy here, the two are partnering to try and help shape future travel policies for both of their benefits.

A joint trial

Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, and Heathrow Airport are all coming together to launch a trial targeted at vaccinated travelers. The airlines will invite fully vaccinated travelers on a handful of routes to show their vaccination status to the airline in paper or digital form.

Upon arrival in the UK, such passengers will use a dedicated immigration lane, where their details will presumably be double-checked. As such, the airline will be aiming to prove that they can perform the checks in place of the border control agents. UK Border Force is currently in charge of checking test results, leading to lengthy delays at some airports.

British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Vaccination Trial
Vaccination documentation will be checked by the airline and Border Force. Photo: Getty Images

Notably, passengers have nothing to gain from taking part in the trial, other than perhaps a slightly quicker airport experience. All passengers will still need to follow the relevant COVID-19 restrictions on travel, meaning quarantine for most.

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How will it work?

Both airlines will invite selected passengers to take part in the trial. British Airways will be looking at passengers flying from Athens and New York, while Virgin Atlantic will target passengers flying from Los Angeles and Montego Bay.

Selected British Airways passengers will be asked to upload their vaccine credentials to the VeriFLY app alongside their existing COVID-19 documents. They can show the generated QR code to access a dedicated lane in the immigration hall, where their vaccine data will be double-checked. British Airways passengers will access reduced cost COVID-19 tests, though how these are accessed is not clear.

British Airways VeriFLY
British Airways passengers will upload their documents to the VeriFLY app. Photo: British Airways

Meanwhile, Virgin Atlantic will allow passengers flying from Los Angeles to show their documents in person or to upload them to a new portal being created with Delta Air Lines. Montego Bay passengers can show a paper or digital vaccine certificate.

Shaping quarantine policy

Following the start of the trial, the airlines hope to share anonymized data with the UK Government as soon as possible. They hope that this will help shape a policy allowing fully vaccinated individuals to avoid quarantine upon arrival. Right now, the UK’s rules solely look at where you have been in the last ten days with no consideration for vaccination status.

This differs from many countries, such as Germany. When the United Kingdom falls off the country’s variant list, it will move onto the high incidence area list. Arrivals to Germany from high incidence areas need to quarantine for ten days but can get out after five days with a negative COVID-19 test like in England. Unlike in England, this can be a free antigen test. Fully vaccinated individuals don’t need to quarantine if they upload their vaccination status to a special government portal.

Commenting on the trial, Virgin Atlantic CEO Shei Weiss said,

“To reap the benefits of the UK’s world-leading vaccine roll out, the UK Government must act now to remove self-isolation for fully vaccinated passengers arriving from ‘amber’ countries, and no later than the domestic reopening on 19th July.”

What do you make of the test? Let us know what you think and why in the comments below!