British Airways and American Airlines will roll out a coronavirus trial this month with the objective of convincing the U.S. and British governments to carry out COVID testing in order for transatlantic travel to get back in motion.
British Airways was operating 84 flights a week between New York and London before the pandemic broke out, but last week flew only 21 planes.
BA said Tuesday that it will start giving passengers tests as part of measures to persuade the government to discard policies that make it compulsory for most international travelers to isolate for 14 days.
IAG, which owns British Airways, has long opposed the 14-day isolation mandate enforced on arriving passengers, saying it discourages them from flying and is bad for the airlines' reputation.
BA is also trying to persuade the U.S. government to open its borders to British nationals, who have been barred since the middle of March.
According to British Airways chief executive officer Sean Doyle, what the carrier is trying to prove is "the effectiveness of testing to replace quarantines." Doyle has been BA CEO for just six weeks. Passengers who test positive of coronavirus can rebook their flights without any fees, BA said.
Passengers will be tested 72 hours before departure, upon arrival at Heathrow airport and again three days after arrival. BA said it aims to show that a single test 72 hours before the plane takes off is enough to guarantee travelers are not carrying the virus.
The trial will start Nov. 25 and will be free of charge to eligible passengers.
Doyle said that if an efficient testing system is in place "regardless of the development of the coronavirus pandemic, it gives people certainty from which they can plan," Reuters quoted him as saying.