Quarantine-free travel: Heathrow to fast-track checks for fully vaccinated passengers

Wearing face masks could remain compulsory at the London airport to protect workers

London Heathrow will direct some fully vaccinated passengers to a dedicated queue as part of a trial system. Reuters

Heathrow Airport will speed up checks for some fully vaccinated passengers arriving in London as UK ministers prepare to sign off on quarantine-free travel.

The airport announced a trial system that allows passengers from certain countries to upload their Covid vaccination certificate before boarding.

It is hoped the trial can persuade the government that quarantine arrangements for fully vaccinated passengers can be removed safely.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is said to favour easing the controls on amber list countries alongside the removal of remaining lockdown restrictions on July 19.

Under the trial, vaccinated passengers from certain flights will be directed to dedicated arrivals lane to allow documents to be verified.

The system, which will be run by flights operated by British Airways and Virgin Atlantic into Heathrow, is intended to show the vaccination status of passengers can be checked without creating chaos at the border.

The trial will accept internationally recognised vaccination credentials including the NHS app, CDC card, US state-level digital certification and the EU digital Covid certificate.

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said both paper-based and digital vaccination certificates would be recognised under the trial.

"That should give the government the confidence to get ahead and let us fly freely from July 19," he told LBC radio.

"We need to show we can make this work safely and we can do it very quickly. There’s no reason why we can’t make it happen from July 19."

He said the government's pursuit with free trade deals in the Pacific was at risk if travel remained severely restricted.

"This isn't just about people going on a holiday. Nearly 40 per cent of the UK’s export s outside the EU go on passenger planes out of Heathrow," he said.

"As the UK sets these new free trade deals ... we need to get those passenger planes flying to get goods to market."

He added: "It’s so frustrating to see the French and Germans being quick to travel again."

"This pilot will allow us to show that pre-departure and arrival checks of vaccination status can be carried out safely at check in, so that fully vaccinated passengers can avoid quarantine from July 19," he said.

Henry Smith, Conservative MP for Crawley, where Gatwick Airport is located, said the failure to remove travel restrictions for double vaccinated travellers "mocked any notion of Global Britain".

"We are already falling behind, with around 30 countries already dropping restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers, and the EU launching its own digital certification system on July 1 – with the principle being that vaccinated travellers should be allowed to move freely," he wrote in Conservative Home.

"With the UK’s NHS App, we have the means to implement this policy straight away – so why wait?"

The Heathrow scheme will initially apply to selected flights from Athens, Los Angeles, Montego Bay, Jamaica and New York.

Most popular holiday destinations are currently on the amber list, meaning that people must isolate for up to 10 days on their return to the UK.

Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss said the British economy was suffering because of quarantine rules.

“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 July 19," he said.

“The UK is already falling behind US and EU and a continued overly cautious approach towards international travel will further impact economic recovery and the 500,000 UK jobs that are at stake.”

British Airways chief executive Sean Doyle said he was confident the trial would be successful.

"We look forward to providing the data that proves it's simple for fully vaccinated status to be verified and to the Government meeting its commitment to get the country moving again," he said.

It is understood ministers will meet on Thursday to approve quarantine-free travel for vaccinated passengers.

Meanwhile, Heathrow is expected to keep its policy on face masks although Mr Johnson said the coverings would be voluntary in most settings after the reopening date.

It comes after unions raised concerns that airport workers could be vulnerable to infection.

Updated: July 07, 2021, 11:31 AM