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Study by British Airways and American Airlines Claims Pre-Departure Tests Could Catch 99.6% of Positive COVID-19 Cases

Study by British Airways and American Airlines Claims Pre-Departure Tests Could Catch 99.6% of Positive COVID-19 Cases

A joint study by American Airlines and British Airways that looked at using pre-departure COVID-19 testing to lift quarantine rules has concluded that a single test before departure has the potential to catch 99.6 per cent of positive cases if taken within 72-hours of the scheduled flight departure.

The study looked at 600 real-life passengers on flights between several cities in the United States and London Heathrow Airport who all volunteered to take three separate COVID-19 tests. The study was funded by the airline industry and analysed by researchers from Oxford University.

The volunteers took a gold-standard Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test 72-hours before departure, followed by a quick turnaround LAMP test immediately on arrival, and then a third PCR test five days after arrival.

“Just 1% of travellers who took a test within 72 hours of their departure tested positive and, as a result of the test, they did not travel,” the airlines said in a joint statement on Thursday. “None of the travellers who took a test upon arrival at LHR tested positive. Of the travellers who took the third test after arriving in the UK, just 0.4%, of travellers tested positive.”

The trial was started before pre-departure testing requirements were imposed by the British government and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The British government has since introduced post-arrival test rules for the vast majority of passengers coming in from abroad.

Neither the British government nor the CDC has released data on positivity rates for either pre-departure or post-arrival tests.

Nonetheless, American Airlines and British Airways will share their own study data with governments on either side of the Atlantic in an attempt to get travel restrictions lifted.

The airlines were buoyed by the fact that nearly 100 per cent of travellers said they would be happy to take a pre-departure test if it meant they could skip quarantine and 70 per cent said they would take a pre-departure test if it meant they could travel – But only if the test was cheap.

Around 80 per cent of travellers are willing to pay $50 (£35) for a pre-departure test but at $100 (£70) the number of travellers willing to pay drops to just 15 per cent.

British Airways has started to trial a potentially game-changing pre-departure test that can return results in just 25 seconds. The test is currently being put through its paces on pilots and cabin crew who will take a second test using a tried and trusted method to prove its accuracy.

View Comments (4)
  • That’s only catching 1.0/1.4 = 0.714 = 71%

    71% of cases (10 of 14)

    NOT 99.6%


    That’s why people need to be conversant in math and statistics — so people can’t misinform them, mislead them, or lie to them.

    • Yes and no.

      1% of 600 didn’t fly because of first test. So 6 people.

      Of the remaining 594, none tested positive at the airport, so the earlier check either caught all cases or all that were detectable.

      Of those 594, .4% (2.376? – is one a child? Did anyone run the numbers before publishing?) tested positive later. We don’t know if they were missed by the earlier two tests or caught it in the meantime from folks not tested (my guess).

      If they were missed by the first 2 tests, then your correction is essentially correct ( though at 6/8.376). But there are unknown factors here, so we can’t say for sure.

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