From this time next week American Airlines and British Airways passengers on selected flights to London’s Heathrow airport will be offered optional coronavirus tests in an effort to demonstrate how mass testing is the way forward for safe international air travel.
Passengers onboard AA50 from Dallas Fort Worth, BA268 from Los Angeles and BA114 from New York’s JFK will be sent a nasal swab test to do at home 72 hours before flying. Upon arrival in London they will then be administered a second swab test and given a third test to do themselves three days later.
American Airlines and their British partners hope that the trial will demonstrate to governments how testing is a safe and financially viable alternative to the travel bans and mandatory quarantines which have decimated the airline industry.
So far this year, airlines have lost $84.3bn in sales globally and have been forced to furlough or lay off thousands of staff.
Pre-flight testing is absolutely vital if the airline industry is to survive beyond the Covid-19 pandemic. Although new vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna have shown promising results, these will take several months to roll out across the United States, and it could be years before the coronavirus is suppressed globally. Dr Fauci recently announced that a US vaccine rollout may not even begin until January 2021, meaning that airlines will miss out on millions in much-needed revenue during the usually busy holiday season.
As BA’s new boss Sean Doyle put 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”.
Fortunately, pre-flight testing looks primed to offer a way out of this dire situation. AA’s president Robert Isom has noted that initial preflight tests on services to St. Lucia, Grenada and Belize have performed “remarkably well”, with customers praising the ease and availability of testing options.
Furthermore, a study by Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that a ‘robust multilayered strategy’, which includes testing, can effectively reduce the risk of exposure to Covid-19 while flying.
This is after the International Air Transport Association already concluded that the risk of contracting COVID-19 on an aircraft is extremely low, with just 44 cases of the virus linked to air travel since the pandemic began.
Once the results from AA’s London trial comes in, this combined data should make an effective case for governments to scrap quarantines and replace them with widespread pre-flight testing.
It will also give Americans the much-needed confidence and peace of mind to take to the skies once more. Airline staff could breath a sigh of relief, business travellers could give the economy a much needed boost, and families could be reunited for the holidays after what has been a pretty gruelling last 12 months.