Both Delta Air Lines and its joint venture partner Virgin Atlantic have agreed to a request from New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo to require all passengers flying from the United Kingdom to the United States to have a pre-departure COVID-19 test. The decision from Delta and Virgin Atlantic came just hours after British Airways became the first airline to comply with Governor Cuomo’s demands, saying it would implement the changes as of Tuesday, December 22.
Unlike British Airways, however, Delta and Virgin Atlantic won’t be in a position to introduce the changes until December 24. At that point, the two airlines will refuse to fly any passengers from the UK to any airport they fly to in the United States who can’t present a negative COVID-19 test certificate dated within 72 hours of departure.
Two types of pre-departure testing will be accepted for travel. Traditional ‘gold standard’ PCR testing is the preferred choice but results can take up to 48-hours and sometimes longer because samples have to be taken to a lab for analysis. A cheaper and far quicker alternative is a so-called LAMP test that produces results in as little as 90 minutes.
In-airport testing at Heathrow Airport costs £99 for a PCR test or just £79 for a LAMP test. A drive through testing centre close to Heathrow Airport costs just £80 for passengers with a confirmed flight booking.
After reaching a testing deal with British Airways, Governor Cuomo threatened to take further action against Delta and Virgin Atlantic if they didn’t fall in line. Initially, a spokesperson for Delta said the airline was reviewing Governor Cuomo’s request before confirming the new testing protocol had been agreed.
“Delta, along with our partner Virgin Atlantic, will be requiring new pre-departure COVID-19 testing for all our customers traveling from the U.K to the United States effective Thursday December, 24. Customers will be required to take a LAMP or PCR test up to 72 hours prior to departure adding another layer of safety when they travel,” an emailed statement explained.
“We will be contacting customers due to travel on our London Heathrow to Atlanta and New York-JFK services in the coming days to provide further information regarding recommended suppliers and testing requirements. We also recommend customers who are scheduled to depart from the U.K. to the United States to monitor delta.com in the coming days for full details of what will be needed before they fly.”
The airline said it was working closely with Governor Cuomo’s office to implement the testing regimen in near-record time.
Delta has already introduced pre-departure testing on two routes from its Atlanta Hartsfield hub to Rome and Amsterdam. The testing experiment allows passengers to skip quarantine on arrival if they are eligible to enter Italy or the Netherlands.
Governor Cuomo lashed out at the federal government over its refusal to implement additional travel restrictions against the United Kingdom following the discovery of a new COVID-19 strain that is up to 70 per cent more transmissible than previous strains.
Both the U.S. Surgeon General and the top U.S. infectious disease specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci have advised against additional restrictions at this time. The advice, however, is in stark contrast to nearly 50 countries that have temporarily barred all travel from the UK as experts work to assess the risk posed by the new strain.
In an effort to contain the virus, Prime Minister Boris Johnson plunged London and much of the South East of England into a hard lockdown on Saturday night. More areas are expected to follow suit in the coming days.
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 used by some of the biggest names in journalism.