Airlines pitch trans-Atlantic travel with pre-flight Covid testing

Limited corridors would involve the larger European and US airports, with all travellers tested for Covid-19.

By Bloomberg News, August 21 2020
Airlines pitch trans-Atlantic travel with pre-flight Covid testing

Germany's main aviation industry group has proposed the creation of limited air-travel corridors between major U.S. and European hubs, a bid to crack open the nearly dormant market for trans-Atlantic flight.

The pilot projects would link U.S. airports in Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles and New York City-adjacent Newark, with Frankfurt and Munich in Germany, along with other major European intercontinental hubs, executives at BDL, which represents Germany’s airports and airlines, said in an online press briefing.

The proposal, which would require passengers to produce a negative test for Covid-19 before flying, is an effort to revive a market that’s the industry’s biggest profit producer and help major European airlines groups such as Lufthansa and IAG – parent to British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus – recover from the pandemic.

London-New York was the world’s top revenue-generating route with more than $1 billion in annual sales before governments imposed lengthy travel bans to contain the coronavirus earlier this year.

Covid-19 testing exists at the German airports and could quickly be installed elsewhere, according to the BDL executives, Matthias von Randow and Peter Gerber.

British Airways is already is considering offering pre-flight Covid-19 testing for specific destinations, reportedly through a partnership with UK high street chemist chain Boots, which already acts as an agent for the UAE's mandatory Covid tests required before boarding an Emirates or Etihad Airways flight.

"We are currently discussing the possibility of helping our customers access pre-flight testing through third parties if their destination requires this, however no plans have been finalised," a spokesperson for the airline said.

Boots is owned by American pharmacy giant Walgreens, which could in turn open up testing on both sides of the Atlantic.

Atlantic exposure

Lufthansa, IAG and Air France-KLM all have commercial partnerships with one of the large U.S. network airlines. However, the plan will need to involve the foreign, transport and health ministries in Germany alone, while a multitude of international authorities have to agree on which kind of test would be accepted, BDL said.

Four major airlines in the U.S. and Europe last month called on U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Ylva Johansson, the European commissioner for home affairs, to reach an international agreement on testing to allow broad trans-Atlantic travel.

A reopening of trans-Atlantic flight would give a huge boost to major network carriers, which on the U.S. side include Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and United Airlines.

The International Air Transport Association has warned that long-distance flying will take years to return to 2019 levels and has urged countries to unify travel rules to speed the comeback.

Constantly changing restrictions have held back the aviation recovery in Europe, while state-by-state outbreaks have limited U.S. domestic travel.

The U.S. government has so far been unwilling to impose any restrictions on airline passengers, such as requiring face coverings or temperature checks. All such measures have been imposed by carriers themselves or local agencies and airports.

Support from US airlines

United is in close touch with its partner Lufthansa on the German proposal, spokeswoman Leslie Scott said in an email. “As we indicated in the letter to U.S. and European authorities, we support passenger testing as a means of safely re-opening international markets,” she said.

Delta said it would be “premature” to comment on the report. “We are still working on what our position should be as it relates to testing and international travel,” a spokeswoman said by email.

The BDL executives said their plan is being proposed to aviation authorities in Europe and the U.S., and so far officials in North America seemed somewhat more open to the idea.

A spokeswoman for Boston Logan International, Jennifer Mehigan, said the airport isn’t aware of the German effort. It doesn’t have any coronavirus testing measures, though some airlines do their own testing for international flight crews.

Europe’s busiest airport hub, London Heathrow, is working on a testing mechanism and industry executives are lobbying the British government to replace quarantines with virus tests as a means of screening travelers from high-risk countries. A spokeswoman for Heathrow said it wasn’t involved in the German proposal.

Aeroports de Paris said it isn’t aware of the German plan either, though has already started testing at its hubs. A negative test is required to enter the country from some nations.

Traffic between Paris airports and North America was down 94% in July, according to hub-operator ADP’s monthly report.

Additional reporting by David Flynn

This article is published under license from Bloomberg Media: the original article can be viewed here


19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1426

With asymptomatic false negatives so high (up to 50%) not sure what the point is if your only catching half of those who may be bringing COVID in. The symptomatic people (with high temperatures) aren’t allowed on the plane anyway.

Pre-flight testing is not going to do a lot. Yes it will catch out people who test positive, but what if they test negative a few days before the flight and then pick it up from somebody a day or two after? What about people who are asymptomatic? I do wonder if this testing might lead to a sense of false security.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

16 Mar 2018

Total posts 15

As raised before....only a rapid test at the airport will make this work.  A covid19 negative test should be no different than going through security and been checked for explosives or having the correct passport. The only difference should be that nobody gets into the main airport terminal, unless being tested negative.  Re the asymptomatic part, I am unsure why a test should pick up covid19 even though a person may not show symptoms.  Happy to learn more about this, but asymptomatic refers to not experiencing/showing symptoms such as a higher temperature, flu like symptoms, but already carrying the virus and hence spreading it.

There are a number of rapid test being trialled such as a Bosch one and another company called Graupner Medical Solutions (a 5 min. result).

Turning up with some certificate that a passenger was tested can mean very little, unless it was done just before stepping into the airport building and unless there was no doctoring of paperwork being done.


19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1426

Crane you’re right at the moment the PCR test requires a certain amount of virus to be about. If this can get more sensitive then immediate testing should be fine but false negatives as high as 50% for asymptomatic is worse than useless. Getting it down to under 5% would probably acceptable to most authorities.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

16 Mar 2018

Total posts 15

Thanks Patrick

getting fast and accurate testing is as important as a workable vaccine.  Sound tests are actual, vaccines will rely on people agreeing to taking a vaccine, the effectiveness and again, that people remain truthful.  Surely, if passports are pampered with, vaccination proof or Covid-19 test will be played with as well.

On a positive note, this entire Virus crisis may even move us more forward in a faster pace to improved fuel efficiency as well as overall much better hygiene and maybe we can get a grip on the flu or even common cold. 

Air New Zealand - Airpoints

05 Nov 2014

Total posts 59

Absolutely stupid and blatantly self-serving proposal.

People can take up to a week to test positive after infection. And the entire Melbourne Second Wave was seeded by a single family arriving from overseas.

A vaccine is not far away, and we all just need to forgo travel in the meantime.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

16 Mar 2018

Total posts 15

Nouflyer, exactly why better testing is critical.  Have you considered the following:

- how can we be assured that the world will have an effective vaccine, we are still waiting for a Blanket flu vaccine 

- no issue not being able to travel for now, but how about the possibility of never having a reliable vaccine, are you suggesting  we all just stay were we are?

- testing will be a critical key for aviation to function. If there is a vaccine that works, it won’t be compulsory and will always be open for being doctored with.

- the return travel, or better global border movement is happening right now with poor testing, no vaccine and most likely still average management within the quarantine hotel scheme.

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