British Airways and American Airlines have teamed up to launch a COVID-19 transatlantic testing trial in a combined effort to convince governments on both sides of the Atlantic to ditch draconian travel restrictions and quarantine policies. Passengers on select flights from Dallas Fort Worth (DFW), New York JFK, and Los Angeles (LAX) will be asked to take part in the trial which will involve a total of three tests.
The trial is similar to one launched by Air Canada that sought to identify the point at which testing is most effective in preventing passengers importing the novel Coronavirus. The latest data from the trial conducted in partnership with McMaster Health Labs revealed that of the 1 per cent of passengers whoever test positive for COVID-19, over two-thirds tested positive on arrival.
Only 30 per cent of passengers tested positive on day seven after arrival and none of the 8,600 participants who have so far taken part in the trial-tested positive by day 14 – the standard length of quarantine.
The research convinced the Canadian government to abolish its 14-day quarantine policy for passengers arriving into Calgary from international destinations. Instead, passengers are tested on arrival and after day seven. During this period, passengers don’t need to self-isolate but are told not to mix with other people in indoor settings or to visit aged care facilities.
Initially, as part of the joint AA/BA testing trial, only passengers on the following flights to London Heathrow (LHR) will be invited to take part in the trial:
- AA50 from Dallas Forth Worth
- BA114 from New York JFK
- BA2678 from Los Angeles
- AA106 from New York JFK
The tests will be conducted ahead of departure, on arrival at Heathrow and several days after arrival.
- 72 hours before departure – an at-home RT-PCR nasal swab test from LetsGetChecked
- On arrival – a rapid LAMP nasal swab test collected by a medical professional
- 3 days later – a rapid at-home test which just requires a saliva sample
Unlike pre-travel testing trials being conducted by Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines and Lufthansa, the aim of this trial isn’t to create a ‘COVID-free’ flight and customers who don’t want to take part in the research will still be allowed to travel on the same flight.
Instead, the sole aim appears to find out what’s the most effective and practical testing interval which could do away with current travel restrictions. At present, British travellers are banned from entering the United States, while American travellers are required to self-isolate for 14-days after their arrival into the UK.
“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,” complained British Airways chief executive Sean Doyle after the trial was announced.
“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,” Doyle suggested.
Doyle said independent medical experts would be overseeing the trial which is set to kickoff from November 25 on all of the flights except for AA106 which is still to get a launch date.
“The ultimate objective of this and other trials is to validate that a pre-departure test provides a high level of certainty of a passenger being COVID-19 negative, which are hoped to result in policies that further relax US and UK border restrictions, including the 14-day quarantine and entry into the US,” a joint statement from the two airline explained.
In contrast, United Airlines will require all passengers on select flights between Newark and London Heathrow to undergo a rapid COVID-19 test just before departure. Passengers who don’t want to take part in the trial will be rebooked on an alternative flight.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.