• Joe Breitfeller

Virgin Atlantic to Launch Preflight COVID-19 Testing Trial Between Heathrow and Barbados

Customers on select flights between London-Heathrow and Barbados or onward to Antigua and Grenada will be requested to take a free rapid COVID-19 test administered by Collinson health professionals at Swissport’s T2 pre-departure testing facility.

Virgin Atlantic Airbus A330-900 - Courtesy Virgin Airbus

On Friday (November 27, 2020), Virgin Atlantic announced the launch of a preflight COVID-19 testing program on flights between Heathrow and Barbados or onward to Antigua and Barbados. Guests will be asked to take the free rapid test administered by health professionals from Collinson as Swissport’s Terminal 2 pre-departure facility. The rapid test provides an extra level of protection and is in addition to the required RT-PCR test required for entry into Barbados, Antigua and Grenada. The six week testing trial is part of Virgin Atlantic’s development of pre-departure testing at scale to provide real-world evidence that robust preflight testing can effectively replace onerous quarantine requirements. From December 9, 2020, customers on select flights to Barbados or onward to Antigua and Grenada will be requested to take the free rapid test.

The company’s goal is to replace the new UK ‘test and release’ scheme for international arrivals which begins on December 15th, at which time Virgin Atlantic's trial will enter a second phase. Under the government program, visitors can end quarantine after five days and presentation of a negative COVID-19 test, rather than be subjected to the current 14-day quarantine. In Friday’s announcement, Virgin Atlantic’s Chief Executive Officer, Shai Weiss, said,

“The new UK test to release scheme is a vital first step in re-opening the skies, but we must now move rapidly towards a single test pre-departure regime in order to ensure the survival of UK aviation and protect 500,000 jobs reliant on the sector. Our Heathrow-Barbados testing trial, in close collaboration with partners including Collinson, London Heathrow and the Barbados Ministry of Tourism & International Transport, will gather vital data on the efficacy of a pre-departure testing regime to safely replace quarantine. We hope that testing will also lead the way for US borders to open to UK travelers.

“Moving to a pre-departure regime, supported by latest independent evidence, would be twice as effective as quarantine. Passengers should be able to take a test from up to 72 hours before departure, including a rapid test at the airport on the day of departure. Valid tests should include PCR, Rapid Point of Care LAMP and lateral flow technologies used by government in other settings, with no diversion from NHS testing capacity. We call on the Government to follow the evidence, support industry trials, and lead the way in allowing free movement of people and goods to resume.”

The trial nasal and throat swab test will be administered up to one hour and 24 minutes prior to departure by a registered nurse, taking no more than five minutes. Customers will receive their results within 30 minutes, and if negative can proceed to security and boarding. Guests currently booked on the select testing flights will be contacted in the coming days by Virgin Atlantic with more information. If a customer doesn’t want to participate, they can rebook to another flight free of charge and if they produce a positive test result, they can rebook or cancel their flight.

The first flight in the trial will be VS186 departing London-Heathrow for Barbados. The carrier operates a ‘double drop’ service on the route, first stopping at Barbados Grantley Adams International Airport (BGI) with continuing service to Antigua (ANU) and Grenada (GND).

Courtesy Virgin Atlantic

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