British Airways and American Airlines launch transatlantic Covid-19 tests

The airlines will test passengers on select flights in a bid to prove that testing is effective enough to remove quarantine policies

British Airways and American Airlines are partnering to offer coronavirus tests to passengers flying across the Atlantic.

In a bid to prove that Covid-19 testing is effective enough to remove quarantine policies for travellers, the airlines will offer free tests to passengers on select US to London Heathrow flights.

Trials begin on Wednesday, November 25, for eligible passengers flying American Airlines from Dallas Fort Worth, and British Airways travellers departing Los Angeles or New York's JFK for London Heathrow.

"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," says Sean Doyle, chief executive of British Airways.

“We need the UK government to introduce a system that allows travellers 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."

Current UK travel restrictions mean that, unless arriving from a destination on the country's air travel corridor list, international travellers need to self-isolate for 14 days, even if they have a negative Covid-19 test.

A three-test system to scrap quarantine rules

Travellers booked to travel on participating flights in the trial will be contacted by the airlines before their departure date.

Those who opt in will then take an at-home PCR test 72 hours before departing the US, under the supervision of medical professionals via a virtual visit.

After landing in London, travellers will take a second Lamp test, provided by Collinson, with medical professionals taking a nasal sample from passengers.

After the test is completed, a test kit for a third and final test will be provided to passengers. This is conducted three days later via an at-home saliva sample.

The three-test approach aims to demonstrate each traveller's negative status for Covid-19 throughout their journey. The final test – designed to confirm the negative results of the first two tests – is included as a way for the airlines to show that one or two tests would be enough to allow travel to restart without quarantine periods.

A task force, made up of oneworld airline alliance representatives and independent medical experts, is overseeing the trial and results will be shared with governments in the US and the UK.

BA and American have confirmed that the tests being used as part of the trial will not impact the UK's National Health Service testing capacity.

American Airlines expands pre-flight testing

The trial with BA means that American Airlines now offers pre-flight testing options to more destinations than any other airline in the US.

In November, pre-flight testing will be available for all American flights to Jamaica, Belize, Grenada, St Lucia and the Hawaiian Islands, as well as select flights to London Heathrow.

"Our initial pre-flight testing has performed remarkably well, including terrific customer feedback about the ease and availability of testing options," says Robert Isom, president of American Airlines.

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