The first Covid-free transatlantic flight is due to arrive at Heathrow on Tuesday morning as industry lobbying is stepped up to agree a travel corridor between London and New York.
United Airlines is running a pilot scheme until December 11 offering free rapid tests to passengers and crew on selected services from Newark Liberty airport and the London hub.
Anyone who does not wish to be tested will be placed on another flight, guaranteeing everyone on board other than children under two will have tested negative before departure, according to the carrier.
The aim is to further demonstrate the effectiveness of passenger testing as an alternative to mandatory quarantines or duplicative travel restrictions.
The four-week trail comes as the aviation sector steps up pressure on ministers to reopen key long-haul routes in advance of the government’s Global Travel Taskforce reporting to Boris Johnson.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps has indicated that quarantine on arrival could be cut from 14 to five days under a ‘test and release’ proposal that could be in place before Christmas.
But airlines want to see the government go further and approve PCR testing 72 hours before departure with a second rapid pre-departure test at the airport.
United claims to have seen a “positive impact” on travel demand and significant increases in customer load factors and revenue when testing options are available.
Chief customer officer Toby Enqvist said: “We believe the ability to provide fast, same-day Covid-19 testing will play a vital role in safely reopening travel around the world and navigating quarantines and travel restrictions, particularly to key international destinations like London.
“Through this pilot programme, we’ll guarantee that everyone on board has tested negative for Covid-19, adding another element to our layered approach to safety.
“United will continue to lead on testing, while at the same time exploring new solutions that contribute to the safest travel experience possible.”
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