US carriers Delta Air Lines and United Airlines will now require all passengers from the UK to have proof of a negative COVID-19 test result in order to fly. The decision follows the discovery of a new strain of the virus in Britain which is believed to be more contagious.
The airlines have made these announcements on their own initiative as the US federal government declined to impose blanket health screenings on all passengers arriving from the UK, or to ban flights from the UK altogether as many other countries have done. This has led to a varied response from airlines and state governments, potentially causing confusion for travelers between the UK and the US over the coming days and weeks.
UK Travelers Facing New Health Screenings
In response to the news of the new COVID-19 strain found in the UK, Delta and United have introduced new health screening requirements in order to try and prevent the spread of the new variant of the virus in the US and keep travelers safe. Both airlines will now require passengers from the UK to take a PCR or rapid antigen test within 72 hours before flying in order to prove their negative COVID-19 status.
The new test requirement will be an added burden for British travelers seeking to fly to the US, as there have previously been no restrictions on new arrivals in America. Travelers from the UK will now have to arrange to get tested before they fly, with the last-minute announcement on December 24 causing some difficulties for holiday travel.
One positive for United and Delta passengers flying to the US is that they will have access to rapid antigen tests at London Heathrow Airport – allowing them to take a test and receive a recognised negative result on arrival at the airport. This will make the travel process easier for passengers leaving from Heathrow as they will not need to organise taking a test in advance of their trips.
The new procedures will affect passengers from the UK traveling on flights with Delta from London to New York-JFK and Atlanta, and on flights with United from London to Chicago, Newark, Washington Dulles and San Francisco. United will be scaling down its flight offerings from the UK in January to just Chicago and Newark.
It had already been announced that British travelers to New York with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic will have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test in order to fly, while all international arrivals in New York will also now have to quarantine for two weeks on arrival in the state.
US Airlines Already A Step Ahead On COVID Testing
The announcements by two of the major US airlines that they will now require passengers from the UK to have a negative test result represents a major change in policy for travel to the US, which has until now not required blanket health screening for any international arrivals. In some respects, this is a positive sign, as many other countries have banned visitors from the UK outright in response to the news about the new virus strain.
Travel between the US and the UK is limited at present in any case, but the new rules will allow passengers to continue traveling safely between the two countries even if they do add extra red tape to the process of planning a trip. It remains to be seen how long the new testing requirement will be in place, as COVID cases with the new strain of the virus have already been discovered in other locations outside of the UK.
Both Delta and United are well placed to launch pre-flight testing procedures for passengers from the UK as these airlines have already been trialling COVID tests for their customers. For example, in November United Airlines began running a pilot testing project for flights between Newark and London, while Delta launched a trial testing program for flights between Atlanta and Rome. The airlines have been keen to encourage passengers back to flying by using pre-flight testing and other safety measures.
While Delta and United are a step ahead on testing procedures, other airlines have not yet introduced similar measures and anyone traveling from the UK to the US should check with their carrier and the authorities at their destination for the latest rules. American Airlines has not yet announced a similar measure, but it has also been trialing pre-flight testing schemes on domestic routes which could be replicated for flights from the UK.
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