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British Airways trial finds pre-departure testing ‘does catch Covid’

British Airways and oneworld alliance partner American Airlines have released the results of the airlines’ joint pre-departure testing trial and say it offers proof that testing “does catch those who have Covid-19”.

Researchers at the University of Oxford studied data from about 600 travellers on how passengers evaluate risk and comply with Covid-19 rules, which was collected on some transatlantic flights from those who volunteered to take part between November 2020 and March 2021.

The trial offered three complimentary Covid-19 tests, taken throughout the 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 Heathrow; and a third PCR test three to five days after arrival in the UK.

The Oxford Internet Institute (OII) study, Trust, Testing and Travel, Technology Use, Traveller Knowledge and Compliance with Covid-19 Health Rules, analysed aggregated survey data.

In the trial’s first phase, 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.

None of the travellers who took a test upon arrival at Heathrow tested positive.

Of the travellers who took the third test after arriving in the UK, just 0.4%, of travellers tested positive.

The analysis suggests that the testing trial results were “broadly consistent” with earlier testing trial programmes in the aviation industry.

It found that 99.7% 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% of travellers said they would travel if required to take a Covid-19 test within 72 hours of 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% of travellers said they would be likely to travel if required to take a test at the airport before departure, and about 75% of travellers are willing to be tested at the airport upon arrival at their destination.

Asked what they would be prepared to pay, nearly 80% of travellers said they would pay for Covid-19 testing, with the majority prepared to pay £35 or less for each test. Only 15% of travellers are prepared to pay more than £70 for Covid-19 testing.

Findings will be shared with governments and stakeholders in a bid to lobby on how comprehensive Covid-19 testing can provide confidence to lift entry restrictions and allow travel to safely resume.

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.”

In a joint statement on the 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 U.S. 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.”

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