The launch of the UK’s first pre-departure testing facility at Heathrow Airport has been lauded today amid hopes that it can boost the ailing travel industry.
Swissport and Collinson teamed up to launch the facility this morning, with tests costing passengers £80.
The programme aims to give travellers their results in less than an hour.
Patrick Ikhena, head of travel insurance at Compare the Market, said the move would give more passengers the confidence to fly this winter.
“The start of Covid-19 testing at Heathrow airport will likely give a shot in the arm to the struggling travel industry during a period of prolonged uncertainty.
“With the pandemic showing no signs of abating, prospective travellers can take steps that could help to protect themselves against Covid-related disruptions before heading abroad.”
Pilots’ union Balpa also welcomed the move, but said that the tests should be made cheaper if the scheme was to encourage “widespread uptake”.
General secretary Brian Strutton said: “It’s a step forward, but we still have miles to go.
“The travelling public need a comprehensive, easy to understand system to replace the chaotic, everchanging, confusing travel corridors and quarantine systems.
“The tests also need to be cheaper if we want to see a widespread uptake amongst business and leisure passengers.
He urged the government to “act swiftly” in rolling out a “comprehensive” airport testing scheme.
Ministers aim for testing regime by 1 December
The facilities, located in Terminals 2 and 5, will initially offer passengers travelling to Hong Kong and Italy the option to fulfil those countries’ pre-departure testing requirements at the airport before they fly.
Swissport and Collinson have already launched a test on arrival facility at the same site but the government have still not given it the go-ahead to be used.
Ministers have been resistant to the idea of airport testing so far, arguing that such a regime would only catch seven per cent of coronavirus cases.
Their reluctance to adopt a testing regime, as countries such as Germany have already done, has enraged airlines and travel companies, who insist it is the best way of getting flying going again.
Yesterday transport secretary Grant Shapps told an aviation conference that the UK was looking to implement a testing regime which would allow people to half the length of time for which they have to quarantine to seven days by December.
Commenting on the launch of the facility, aviation bosses again urged ministers to act more swiftly on getting a testing regime in place.
Heathrow chief exec John Holland-Kaye said: “We need a Common International Standard for pre-departure testing, and we welcome the UK government’s recent announcement that it wants to take a global lead in establishing this.
“We will work with them to make this happen as soon as possible, so that we protect livelihoods as well as lives.”
New British Airways boss Sean Doyle added: “The UK’s economic recovery depends on the swift re-opening of the UK’s skies and we need a worldwide agreement that fast, reliable pre-departure testing is the safest and quickest way to get people flying again.