Pre-travel Covid-19 testing works, finds Oxford /airline study


A joint testing trial has found that a comprehensive Covid-19 testing programme can help reopen international travel safely. The trial was conducted by American Airlines, British Airways and the Oneworld Alliance, with the relevant data gathered on how passengers evaluate risk and comply with Covid-19 rules analysed by researchers at the UK’s University of Oxford.

The university’s Oxford Internet Institute (OII) conducted a study titled ‘Trust, Testing and Travel, Technology Use, Traveller Knowledge and Compliance with COVID-19 Health Rules’, which analysed aggregated survey data from nearly 600 travellers who took part in the voluntary testing trial on select flights from the USA to London Heathrow (LHR) between November 2020 and March 2021. The trial offered passengers three complimentary Covid-19 tests, with participants taking an initial PCR test at 72 hours prior to departure; a second test (LAMP) upon arrival at LHR; and a third test (PCR) taken three to five days after arrival in the UK.

In the first phase of the trial, 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 LHR tested positive. Of the travellers who took the third test after arriving in the UK, just 0.4% of travellers tested positive, according to the programme partners.

The analysis by researchers at the OII suggests that the trial results were “broadly consistent” with earlier testing trial programmes in the aviation industry. The OII team also found that 99.7% of travellers said they were happy to comply with Covid-19 testing requirements as an alternative to quarantining after international travel, and that they are prepared to pay for affordable testing.

Almost 70% of travellers said they would be willing to travel if required to take a Covid-19 test within 72 hours prior to departure. The same percentage 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% said they 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 be willing to pay for Covid-19 testing, with the majority prepared to pay US$50 (£35) or less for each test. Only 15% of travellers are prepared to pay more than US$100 (£70) for the test kits.

The findings of the OII study will be shared with governments and stakeholders, as the institute regards them as being an important addition to the growing body of knowledge that shows how comprehensive Covid-19 testing can enable governments to lift entry restrictions and allow travel to safely resume.

Philip Howard, Professor of internet studies at the 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.”

About the trial

The optional trial was available to eligible customers travelling on select flights operated by American Airlines and British Airways from the USA to LHR between November 2020 and March 2021. To ensure a wide-ranging set of findings, the trial was offered on select flights departing from eight US gateways to LHR, including: Boston (BOS), Charlotte (CLT), Chicago (ORD), Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), New York (JFK) and Washington (IAD). Each customer participating in the trial took an initial PCR test at 72 hours prior to departure; a second test (LAMP) upon arrival at LHR; and a third test (PCR), taken three to five days after arrival in the UK.

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About Author


Ever since his first flight on a TriStar, Adam has loved air travel, and since becoming editor of the Aircraft Interiors International brand he has really enjoyed the opportunity to be involved with the latest aircraft and airline products before they are even launched. Adam co-ordinates the running of the magazine, from commissioning articles and artwork, to ensuring that high standards of quality are maintained, as well as managing online content. Adam is proud to sit on the jury of the Crystal Cabin Awards and to have laid on the bed in Etihad's Residence.

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