Airlines urge governments to replace quarantine with testing

The results of a joint trial conducted by American Airlines, British Airways and the oneworld Alliance reveal that a comprehensive Covid-19 testing programme can help re-open international travel, safely.

This is underpinned by analysis from researchers at the University of Oxford, who studied data on how passengers evaluate risk and comply with Covid-19 rules.

The study, carried out by the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), analysed aggregated survey data from almost 600 travellers who took part in the voluntary testing trial on select flights from the United States to London Heathrow, between November 2020 and March this year.

The trial offered three complimentary Covid-19 tests, taken throughout the transatlantic journey.

Customers participating in the trial, conducted in two phases, took an initial PCR test at 72 hours prior to departure; a second test (LAMP) upon arrival at London Heathrow (LHR); and a third test (PCR) taken three to five days after arrival in the UK.

In the first phase, just one per cent 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.

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 per cent, of travellers tested positive.

The analysis by researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute suggests that the testing trial results were “broadly consistent” with earlier testing trial programmes in the aviation industry.

Importantly, 99.7 per cent of travellers said they were happy to adhere to Covid-19 testing requirements as an alternative to quarantine after international travel and are prepared to pay for affordable testing.

Almost 70 per cent of travellers said they would travel if required to take a Covid-19 test within 72 hours prior to departure.

The same number said they would be willing to take a Covid-19 test before departure as well as after arrival.

More than 70 per cent of travellers said they would be likely to travel if required to take a test at the airport before departure, and about 75 per cent of travellers are willing to be tested at the airport upon arrival at their destination.

Philip Howard, professor of internet studies at Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, said: “As many countries make progress on vaccinating their citizens the debate over reopening travel safely is becoming increasingly important.

“I’m pleased our team has been able to make a contribution to this discussion through this detailed analysis of passenger sentiment and behaviour.”

Findings of the Oxford study will be shared with governments and stakeholders, in an important addition to the growing body of knowledge that shows how comprehensive Covid-19 testing can provide governments the confidence they need to lift entry restrictions and allow travel to safely resume.

In a joint statement on the Oxford findings, American Airlines, British Airways and oneworld said: “The Oxford study further reinforces that customers are willing to undergo Covid-19 testing as an alternative to quarantine.

“The trial findings underline the important role that testing can play in the safe reopening of international travel, including hugely significant routes between the United States and UK.

“The affordability of testing is crucial for travellers, and we stand ready to partner with governments and the private sector to offer affordable testing options for our customers who would like or need to travel again.”