London’s Heathrow Airport will take part in a trial that would see fully vaccinated travellers entering from countries on the UK’s ‘amber list’ be fast-tracked through the airport’s screening process, in a move that hopes to kickstart the UK’s aviation industry.
From next week, vaccinated travellers on selected flights from Athens, Los Angeles, Montego Bay and New York will be given the chance to show proof of vaccination status upon arrival, and will then be escorted to dedicated arrival lanes and avoid lengthy delays at immigration.
The move forms as part of a trial program run in joint collaboration with Heathrow Airport, British Airways, and Virgin Atlantic, which broke the news in a joint statement intending to “get the country moving again”, according to Sean Doyle, British Airways CEO and chairman.
The news comes days after the UK government announced the drastic removal of numerous restrictions in England from 19 July, after being extended continuously.
The trials hopes to both boost vaccination uptake, as well as ease pressure and mounting wait times at UK immigration halls, which are currently responsible for verifying required health credentials.
“Our proof-of-concept trial on selected US and Caribbean routes demonstrates our readiness as an industry to rapidly operationalise the new policy, and work with government and authorities to ensure it is smoothly implemented at pace, supporting the reopening of the trans-Atlantic corridor, without which £23 million is lost each day from the UK economy,” said Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic.
Upon arrival, vaccination verification will be accepted through the NHS app, CDC card, US state-level digital verification, the EU digital Covid certificate and the VeriFLY app for British Airways customers.
The hope for the trial is that vaccinated travelers will be able to avoid quarantine from 19 July
Currently, 86 per cent of adults in the UK have received their first dose of the vaccine while 64 per cent are fully vaccinated.
In the US, over 157 million people have been fully vaccinated, with 58 per cent of them being adults.
This trial is set to reboot UK’s travel industry as it has dramatically fallen behind the US and EU due to its “overly cautious” protection measures, leading to a failing job market, according to Weiss.
The news also comes weeks after a number of aviation trade organisations in Europe penned an open letter suggesting European travellers should have their digital health credentials processed and verified before travelling, in order to reduce wait times at airports.
In recent weeks, Europe has been gearing up to issue European Union Digital COVID Certificates (EUDCC), formally referred to as the EU Digital Green Certificate, across 17 bloc countries.
However, European bodies, including the International Air Transport Association, Airlines for Europe, and the European Regions Airline Association, have now warned governments that passengers could face hours-long queues at airports that will cause “chaos”, if Europe doesn’t introduce additional measures to streamline the checking of health credentials.
“As passenger traffic increases in the coming weeks, the risk of chaos at European Airports is real,” the letter read, particularly as many airports and ground staff are not yet equipped with the necessary technology and equipment required to read the QR code data.
Further, according to the aviation bodies, the current EUDCC format will introduce a “worrying patchwork of approaches” to verifying health information, and will make travelling through an airport an even lengthier process.
Heathrow Airport recorded a £2 billion annual loss at the end of 2020, and the UK suffered an overall loss of £3.5 billion from tourism and travel, according to a York Aviation report.
In late June, the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) held a ‘Travel Day of Action’ march outside airports across Britain, demanding the UK government to restore travel and provide tailored financial support for workers across the country.
John Holland-Kaye, CEO of Heathrow said the airport is the main hub for trade in goods and services with the US, and new research today demonstrates “how critical it is to the UK economy to get the passenger planes that carry those exports off the ground”.
“This is a vital step towards delivering the government’s ambitions for Global Britain and they now need to act fast,” he said.