Passengers will take coronavirus tests before flying to the UK with British Airways amid doubts over plans to halve the 14-day quarantine period.
BA will introduce pre-flight testing next Wednesday on services between the US and UK as part of a pilot scheme. Passengers will be tested three days before flying and again on landing at Heathrow. They will have a third test three days after arrival and all results will be compared. It is hoped that it will prove the accuracy of pre-flight or arrival testing without the need for quarantine in the UK.
About 500 passengers will volunteer for the free trials on BA and American Airlines flights into Heathrow from Dallas, Los Angeles and New York JFK. Customers who test positive before travelling will be able to reschedule their travel free of charge, BA said. The trial results will be submitted to the government’s Global Travel Taskforce.
Last week proposals for a “test and release” system were drawn up by ministers to halve the self-isolation period for arrivals. It is likely that travellers will take a test five days after arrival in the UK, with a negative result two days later releasing them from quarantine. The system could be introduced next month.
Sean Doyle, the BA chief executive, said that the seven-day plan would have no benefit, insisting that most people will still refuse to travel into the UK. Airlines have been decimated by travel restrictions, with EasyJet registering a £1.3 billion annual loss yesterday, the first in its 25-year history.
BA usually operates 84 flights a week out of New York JFK but is down to 21 weekly services. Mr Doyle said the UK was being “left behind” countries such as Germany which accepts negative tests on arrival as an alternative to quarantine.
“The end goal is to prove we can restart flying safely and without the quarantine measures,” he said. “Our research suggests a seven-day quarantine won’t cut it. Without a pre-flight testing regime, we will be locked in a stop-start cycle where consumers are unclear about what the rules of the game are, and won’t be in a position to travel with confidence.”
BA said that the third test performed at home in its pilot scheme was “intended to further confirm the results of the first two tests to demonstrate that one or two tests will be sufficient to allow travel to safely restart”.