Virgin Atlantic introduces pre-departure Covid-19 testing trial on Heathrow-Barbados flights

Virgin Atlantic has said that it will introduce a pre-departure free, rapid lateral-flow antigen test for customers on selected flights travelling from London Heathrow to Barbados, and onwards to Antigua and Grenada, starting December 9.

Delivered by health professionals at Collinson and Swissport’s Terminal 2 Pre-Departure testing facility, the move is part of an airline-led trial to gather vital data on the logistics and effectiveness of pre-departure testing. The free test is in addition to existing multi-faceted measures and the RT-PCR test entry requirement for Barbados, Antigua and Grenada.

This Virgin Atlantic testing trial initiative, six weeks in duration, will facilitate the development of pre-departure testing at scale at Heathrow and provide evidence on testing effectiveness to enable governments to move to a valid pre-departure testing regime and safely remove quarantine. The move comes as UK travel restrictions for non-essential travel eased on December 3.

Shai Weiss, chief executive officer, Virgin Atlantic 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 travellers.’

The nasal and throat swab in Virgin Atlantic’s trial will be administered up to 1 hour 45 minutes before departure by a registered nurse at the Pre-Departure Collinson and Swissport Terminal 2 facility, taking no more than five minutes. Customers will receive their digital and printed test result within less than 30 minutes, proceeding to security and boarding following confirmation of a negative result.

In addition to the outbound pre-departure rapid testing trial, Virgin Atlantic is planning a second phase to gather data with pre-departure rapid testing for selected inbound services from December 15. This coincides with the start of the UK ‘test to release’ regime on day five to generate critical data and support the removal of quarantine for international arrivals.

Customers who do not wish to participate in the trial may rebook free of charge to another Virgin Atlantic flight. If a customer tests positive, they will be able to rebook free of charge or cancel their trip.

The first flight in the trial will be VS186 departing today, December 9. Selected Virgin Atlantic flights from London Heathrow to Barbados operate as a ‘double drop’ service, stopping first at Barbados Grantley Adams International Airport (BGI) then onwards to Antigua (ANU) or Grenada (GND).