BA chiefs have today revealed the future of post-Covid air travel ahead of the lifting of the UK’s international travel ban.
Online check-in systems, virtual queuing schemes and even a virus-busting UV robot are among a raft of new measures lined up at Heathrow Airport ahead of the lifting of restrictions on non-essential travel next week.
Britons will be given the green light to legally leave the UK on Monday when the Government finally opens the airport gates for holidays and trips abroad.
Families will be allowed to travel to a handful of ‘green list countries’ without having to self-isolate on their return from Monday.
Countries including Portugal, Iceland and conflict-torn Israel are among the destinations on the list.
However airline chiefs are still anxiously awaiting news on whether Portugal will lift its travel ban for British travellers, with a decision expected ahead of Sunday.
Ahead of the lifting of restrictions in the UK, BA have today announced their new measures for keeping passengers safe from Covid.
Among the measures are:
- A new online check-in system which allows customers to book a check-in slot in advance of their flight;
- A new virtual queuing system which travellers can use for check-in and for boarding the plane;
- A cheaper £40.41 PCR test and a lateral-flow test which passengers can take while they are abroad;
- The trial of a super accurate 25 second Covid test which could be rolled out to customers later this summer;
- A dedicated family check in area for parents with children aged up to 12; Use of powerful UV robots to help clean high contact areas such as toilets.
BA chiefs have today revealed the future of post-Covid air travel ahead of the lifting of the UK’s international travel ban. Online check-in systems will be part of the measures
Virtual queuing schemes and even a bacteria killing UV robot are among a raft of new measures lined up at Heathrow Airport ahead of the lifting of travel restrictions next week. Pictured: Heat stations which track people’s temperatures will also be implemented
Passenger areas, including the lounges (pictured), will be social distanced to minimise any transmission risks
Passengers will be able to use a virtual queuing system to board the plane – preventing a ‘bottleneck’ at the gates
A staff member cleans in Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport in west London ahead of international travel restarting on Monday
A passenger looks for a seat in the departures area in Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport earlier today before next week’s rush
A Heathrow COVID safety marshal patrols the departures area in Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport in west London today
Temperature checks on passengers in the departures area in Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport in west London today
One of the biggest changes will see BA push for customers to do more before they get to the airport – though they can still opt for the usual check-in method if they chose.
British Airways reveals world-first trial of Covid test that gives results in 25 SECONDS
British Airways today announced it will be the world’s first airline to trial an ultra-rapid coronavirus test which produces results within 25 seconds ahead of the return to global travel from Monday.
The airline, which has been forced to make thousands of redundancies as a result of the enormous damage inflicted on the global travel industry during the coronavirus crisis, called the pilot scheme a ‘game changer’.
Flight and cabin crew will be required to take a Pelican covid antigen test from medical tech company Canary Globalm, with results to be compared against their standard test results.
Users apply a sample of their saliva to a disposable sensor unit, which is shaken and inserted into a digital reader connected to a Bluetooth-enabled device such as a smartphone.
The test result is made available on an app within 25 seconds and correctly identifies 98 per cent of people who have coronavirus and 100 per cent of those who do not, the airline said. In a statement, BA said the pilot scheme was ‘recently approved for use in Europe and UK’ and is being assessed in the US.
BA this week penned an open letter alongside the bosses of Delta, Virgin, American Airlines and JetBlue which begged US President Joe Biden and British premier Boris Johnson to reopen transatlantic travel urgently to save economies and reunited families separated for more than a year.
It comes after Downing Street declined to add the US to its ‘green list’ of safe destinations that British holidaymakers will be allowed to visit from Monday, May 17 without having to quarantine. However, arrivals must test negative for coronavirus before and after getting back to the UK.
BA chief executive Sean Doyle said today: ‘As we start to see the opening up of travel we remain committed to exploring easy and affordable testing solutions to help our customers travel again, whether it’s for business, to reunite with family and friends or take a much-needed break abroad.
‘We think this new ultra-rapid test is a game changer so we are delighted to work with the team at Canary to begin initial trials with our flight and cabin crew, before exploring what role it could play as a customer testing option.’
BA will utilise its app to encourage people to book a check-in slot online before arriving at the airport.
Customers will also have a specific area – called Right To Fly – in their app which will allow them to check the travel restrictions in the country they are visiting.
They can then ‘tick off’ the measures, including submitting evidence of negative Covid tests, uploading their vaccine credentials and giving details for their passenger locator forms in advance.
BA will also team up with Verifly to offer an alternative service, for those wanting to use a different app.
Passengers will also be encouraged to book Covid tests in advance – with each country having different rules on which tests are needed for entry and when they should be taken.
BA today revealed it had signed a new deal to offer cut price £40.41 PCR tests – which can cost upwards of £100.
PCR tests are currently regarded as the ‘gold standard’ of testing. Results come from a laboratory – meaning they are more expensive and can take days to produce a result.
BA say they are also trialling a new ‘nanotech’ saliva based antigen test which could produce results in up to 25 seconds with between 98 to 100 per cent accuracy.
The tests, provided by Pelican, are currently being trialled on BA cabin crew, but bosses say it could be available to passengers by the summer.
BA chief executive Sean Doyle said today: ‘We think this new ultra-rapid test is a game changer so we are delighted to work with the team at Canary to begin initial trials with our flight and cabin crew, before exploring what role it could play as a customer testing option.’
The airline revealed they have also signed a deal with Qured, a company which allow customers to take a lateral flow test abroad, book a video appointment so a doctor can watch the test take place, and then submit the results online.
Bosses say such schemes will be useful for those travelling to countries without large testing infrastructure.
When arriving at the airport, customers – who will have to wear facemasks inside the terminal – will have access to a huge supply of Covid killing hand-sanitiser and hand wipes.
BA chiefs say they will have 10,000 anti-bacterial wipes and 3,000 litres of hand sanitiser fluid, in 400 dispensers, available to customers at its Heathrow check-in areas at any one time.
There will also cleaning carried out by special virus-busting UV robots, which burn bacteria to death.
The robots, commonly used to clean operating theatres, will be used in areas such as the toilets of Heathrow.
The machines omit harmful UV rays which destroy the DNA of viruses and bacteria.
But, because of the dangers, the robots can only be used to clean empty rooms and are operated remotely by staff.
Along with bacteria killing robots, BA have also set up a virtual queuing system which they say will ‘stop bottlenecks’ of passengers.
Passengers will scan a QR-code into the Qmatic system and wait for their number to be called before going to the check-in area. The trial will also be used at the check-in gate.
Other initiatives include a family check-in gate, specifically aimed at parents travelling with children aged under 12.
However, despite the raft of new measures, BA say they do not expect customers to arrive earlier than usual at the airport.
BA chiefs say they will have 10,000 anti-bacterial wipes and 3,000 litres of hand sanitiser fluid, in 400 dispensers, available to customers at its Heathrow check-in areas at any one time
There will also cleaning carried out by special virus-busting UV robots, which burn bacteria to death
A female member of staff stands by check-in in Terminal 5 and pulls out some surface wipes to clean the area
A virtual queuing system will be in place through Qmatic, which will prevent customers from waiting around at the check-in desks
In fact, BA chiefs hope the new measures will actually cut time at the terminals – thus reducing the amount of time passengers spend waiting around.
Tom Stevens, BA Director of Customer Experience told MailOnline: ‘We are doing everything we can to make it as familiar as possible.
Is the air safe on planes? BA medical chief explains how the ventilation system really works
A BA medical chief has revealed how plane air systems really work, amid passenger concern about catching Covid.
Dr Mike Harrigan, Head of BA Health Service, BA, told MailOnline that the air system on planes in flight is half recycled air and half air from the outside of the plane.
But he said that the recycled air is put through an air circulation system before being pumped back into the cabin.
He said the filter used is a High Efficiency Particulate Filter – the type used in operating theatres.
He told MailOnline: ‘In reality the air in a cockpit is replaced every two or three minutes. This is about 15 times more than the average home with a ventilation system.’
‘We are not asking people to come to the airport earlier and we are not expecting congestion as you check in.
‘We are doing a huge amount of work pre-airport.’
Meanwhile, flight crew and pilots are being prepared ahead of the return to international travel on Monday.
With much of the airline’s fleet grounded during the pandemic, many BA staff, including pilots, have been furloughed.
But bosses say pilots have been rotated to keep them flying throughout the pandemic to keep them practised.
BA’s Director of Flight Operations, Captain Al Bridger, told MailOnline that staff were ‘looking forward’ to flying again.
He said: ‘I think it is natural for people to be apprehensive, but when they see all the measures that have been in place to make it Covid secure and the other measures that have been put I place I’m sure people will feel relaxed.
‘I think all of the staff are really looking forward to getting back to flying again.’
BA has been forced to make thousands of redundancies as a result of the enormous damage inflicted on the global travel industry during the coronavirus crisis.
Thousands of staff have also been furloughed due to the low number of passengers taking flights during the non-essential international travel ban – which is due to end on Monday.
Earlier this week the airline penned an open letter alongside the bosses of Delta, Virgin, American Airlines and JetBlue which begged US President Joe Biden and British premier Boris Johnson to reopen transatlantic travel urgently to save economies and reunited families separated for more than a year.
It comes after Downing Street declined to add the US to its ‘green list’ of safe destinations that British holidaymakers will be allowed to visit from Monday, May 17 without having to quarantine. However, arrivals must test negative for coronavirus before and after getting back to the UK.
The Department for Transport has said it will review its policy on June 28.
British Airways staff standing in the doorway of a plane as they prepare to welcome holidaymakers on Monday, May 17
BA staff wearing face masks stand at check-in in Heathrow’s Terminal 5 as they prepare to welcome back tourists
An aerial view of a gate in Terminal 5 shows how seating has been made covid-secure, with signs blocking every other chair
A waiter wearing a face mask in Terminal 5 brings customers glasses of alcohol before they fly with British Airways
Airport staff in Terminal 5 make the terminal covid-secure as they prepare to welcome holidaymakers from next week
The countries on the ‘green list’ from May 17 are: Portugal including the Azores and Madeira; Australia; New Zealand; Singapore; Brunei; Iceland; the Faroe Islands; Gibraltar; the Falkland Islands; and Israel
They said they need adequate time to plan routes and to staff them after an announcement is made, and that June 11-13 – when the two leaders meet at the G7 in Cornwall, England – would be the perfect time to announce it.
‘The return of Transatlantic flying would not only have a significantly positive impact on our respective economies but will also reunite those who have been separated from their loved ones for over a year.’
THE RULES ON UK-US TRAVEL
ENTERING AMERICA FROM THE UK
No non-citizens can enter the US from the UK without a visa waiver or other special circumstances.
The UK is on a list of banned countries along with 27 in Europe, Iran, China, India and South Africa, from which direct travel is banned if it has happened in the last 2 weeks.
WHO CAN TRAVEL TO AMERICA?
Every other country in the world that is not on the banned list.
ENTERING THE UK FROM AMERICA
The US is now on a list of ‘Amber’ countries in the UK which means people can travel from them but upon arrival in the UK, they have to quarantine for 10 days and take multiple COVID-19 tests.
WHO CAN TRAVEL TO THE UK?
Only countries on the ‘Green’ list can travel freely to the UK and only from May 17.
Those countries are; Australia, Brunei, Falkland Islands, Faroe Islands, Gibraltar, Iceland, Israel and Jerusalem, New Zealand, Portugal, Singapore, South Georgia, St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.
Both the US and the UK have vaccinated roughly a third of their populations and travel to and from each country from multiple others is allowed, but free travel between them has been banned since March 2020. Currently, and as has been the case since March last year, a non-US citizen cannot fly directly from the UK into America.
British rules have fluctuated but currently, anyone from the US can fly to the UK so long as they quarantine for 10 days upon arrival and take multiple Covid-19 tests.
A new report on Tuesday from Airlines for America revealed that in the first quarter of 2021 alone, the major US airlines lost $7billion between them. That is on top of the $35billion they collectively lost in 2020.
The report predicted that it will take until 2023 for normal levels of air travel to resume. Between February 2020 and February 2021, the number of US airline employees dropped by 66,000. Globally, it dropped by 46,000.
BA caused panic for thousands of Britons rushing out to Portugal from May 17 after sending an official warning that their holiday could be illegal and they may be fined £5,000 each if they go.
The airline’s message to customers booked on to planes to Faro next week came just six days before the country is put on Britain’s ‘green list’ from Monday.
In a message sent to passengers booked on flights from Heathrow to Faro, seen by The Independent , BA warns: ‘You can only travel internationally from England for legally permitted reasons. This does not include holidays.’
And adding to the confusion, BA has said that passengers must fill out a Declaration to Travel form, even though they are due to be axed from May 16. Failure to fill one in is punishable by a £5,000 fine and even arrest.
The message added: You may be required to show the form at the port of departure. It is an offence to enter a port of departure or embarkation point without a properly completed form if you are travelling internationally. Some job-related exemptions apply.
‘You may be issued with a fixed penalty notice and directed to return home if you do not have a valid reason for travel.’ The confusion over guidance is bad news for BA, whose flights to the Algarve are one of its few ‘Green List’ destinations.
Last week the Foreign Office updated its official travel advice to say that they no longer advise against all but essential travel to Portugal. But the Portuguese Government is yet to update its entry requirements to match, just six days until Britons are due to start arriving on holiday.
Yesterday MailOnline revealed that thousands of Britons will use a loophole to fly into ‘green list’ Portugal after May 17 before travelling over land to their holiday homes in Spain, France and Italy.
A British Airways pilot wearing a face mask sits in the cock-pit as Terminal 5 prepares to welcome holidaymakers
A shot of Terminal 5 in Heathrow shows social distancing markers and public health messaging on ‘hands, face and space’
A view of a surface wiper dispense at baggage drop-off and check-in at Terminal 5 in Heathrow ahead of Monday, May 17
A member of staff wearing a mask holds a smartphone after scanning a QR code to check-in virtually in Terminal 5
A member of staff is seen wearing a mask and wiping down chairs separated by protective glass in Terminal 5
A waiter presents a BA customer with glasses of alcohol next to a surface wiper dispenser in Heathrow’s Terminal 5
Travellers wearing face masks walk through Heathrow’s Terminal 5 ahead of the easing of restrictions on Monday, May 17
A female traveller wearing a face mask waits for a flight out of Heathrow’s Terminal 5 ahead of restrictions easing
A BA member of staff wearing a face mask stands next to a coronavirus testing centre in Terminal 5 in Heathrow
Downing Street played down the possibility of a delay to the Government’s lockdown roadmap and insisted its schedule was still on track
The opening up of flights next week has seen a rush of people planning to jet to Faro, Porto or Lisbon with nothing to stop them renting a car so they can then drive into Europe, experts say.
The land border between Portugal and Spain is open with the French border with EU countries expected to follow suit from as early as May 19, meaning British travellers will likely avoid having their passports checked.
And Britons with second homes in Europe can travel to them if they are preparing them for sale or need to carry out urgent repairs – but with most short haul flights to France and Spain axed, people are planning alternative ways to get there.
Online flights search engine Skyscanner has said that bookings to Portugal are already up 660 per cent per day based on a week ago – and people have taken to social media to admit they are planning to use the loophole to get to holiday homes.
Travel guru Paul Charles, founder of the PC Agency consultancy, told MailOnline: ‘I think you will see a big rush on flights to Portugal because there are hundreds of thousands of Britons with second homes in Spain, France and Spain.
‘Many won’t have visited for more than a year – and will be desperate to get away from the UK. Others may want to see family abroad. They could drive across and then sit tight until the end of June when those countries are expected to go green’.
Mr Charles has also predicted that a version of the NHS’ digital vaccine passport will be up and running by May 17, while UK and Portugal Government advice warning against travel to and from Portugal will be changed ahead of the great holiday restart in a week’s time.
‘Holidaymakers travelling to and from Portugal will be viewed as a way to test how the travel system will work in Covid times before opening up to the rest of Europe, probably around June 21’, he said.
BA warned passengers on flights to Faro: ‘You can only travel internationally from England for legally permitted reasons. This does not include holidays’, despite Portugal being on the official ‘Green List’ from Monday
Thousands of Britons have booked to go to Portugal as the country opens up properly to tourists for the first time since 2020, but official guidance is yet to be updated
British second home owners with properties in Spain, France and Italy may choose to fly into Portugal and drive to them when flights open up on May 17, experts have predicted
Mr Charles added that while the borders between Portugal and its European neighbours would be open, travellers would have to be aware of the local rules in their final destination, but France, Spain and Italy are all easing their lockdown in the coming weeks.
The border between Spain and Portugal is open – while proof of a negative test is required to pass into France from Spain.
Anyone caught travelling abroad from the UK for a non-essential reason to a non-green list country could be issued with a fixed penalty fine of £5,000.
Can I go on holiday from May 17?
The Government has announced the green, amber and red lists for international travel.
-Who is on the green list?
It consists of Portugal, Gibraltar, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, plus several small remote islands which are British Overseas Territories.
– So I can go on holiday to anywhere on that list?
Not quite. Entry to Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei and the Faroe Islands is severely restricted.
– Where can I go?
Portugal plans to welcome UK tourists who have had a recent negative test, have recovered from the virus and therefore have antibodies, or had both doses of a vaccine.
Gibraltar will not require UK visitors to be tested or vaccinated, whereas Israel will initially reopen its border on May 23 only to groups of foreign tourists who have had both jabs.
None of these destinations will require arrivals to quarantine.
– What about the amber list?
That covers the most popular holiday destinations such as Spain, France, Italy and Greece.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said ‘you should not be travelling to these places right now’
– What if I go against that guidance?
People returning from amber countries must take two post-arrival tests.
They are also required to self-isolate at home for 10 days, although they can reduce that time if they take an additional negative test on day-five.
– How about the red list?
Those returning from a red list country must stay in a quarantine hotel for 11 nights at a cost of £1,750.
– Will the lists change?
The lists can be amended at any time, but wholesale changes are not expected to occur until the situation is reviewed at a ‘checkpoint’ on June 28.
– What about vaccine passports?
Grant Shapps confirmed that people in England will be able to demonstrate they have had both doses of a vaccine through the NHS app.
But if you have a second home, you are legally authorised to travel there from the UK if you are going to organise selling it, buying it, renting it or letting it out.
The same rules apply in Europe, where Brits are expected to argue why it is ‘vital’ to travel to those homes in a pandemic.
A spokesman for the airline said: ‘At British Airways we are looking forward to welcoming our customers back on board. We are in the process of adjusting our emails to customers, to reflect the change in the government’s travel advice to certain destinations.’
People have taken to social media to admit they are planning to use the Portugal loophole.
One said: ‘Do you realise that I can travel to Portugal, a green country, rent a car then drive to Spain or France (amber countries) then come back home to the UK and completely avoid any testing or isolation requirements?
Another tweeted: ‘Fly to Gibraltar and enter Spain? It can be recorded as you’re crossing an international border. Fly to Portugal and drive to Spain? Who’s to know’.
One user urged to Government to put Spain on ‘green’ to ensure visitors don’t bring back Covid variants. He wrote: ‘So you can fly to Portugal, drive then into Spain and fly back to Uk from Portugal and be treated as a green country. So why not put Spain on then Green list and ensure the necessary testing is in place’.
Hugh Aitken, vice president of flights at online booking service Skyscanner, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘On Friday we saw over 119 per cent increase in bookings day on day just as travellers started to respond to the green light to start international travel.
‘Portugal itself saw a well over a 660 per cent increase in bookings out of UK day on day. Very positive and a good start. The key thing is we’re certainly seeing the demand out there’.
Zina Bencheikh, managing director in Europe for Intrepid Travel, which operates small group tours around the world, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We know there is a pent-up demand, we know that travellers want to travel, it’s just about when they will be able to do so.
‘I do think that travellers need to book their holidays in advance because there are so many flexible possibilities, they can change last-minute, they can request for a refund as well dependent on which company they book their trip with, and I think that flexibility will give peace of mind for not worrying about prices increasing in the near future.’
It came as Britons learned they could head to Italy without having to quarantine on arrival as soon as mid-May – but will still be forced to self-isolate for 10 days on their return if they don’t stay for six weeks or so.
Foreign minister Luigi Di Maio said he is planning on lifting quarantine restrictions for travellers from Britain, Israel and European countries in a bid to revive its flagging tourism industry.
Quarantine requirement may be scrapped for those arriving from the United States from June, Di Maio said.
He met with Health Minister Roberto Speranza to discuss the easing of restrictions for countries where vaccination levels are high.
‘We are working to lift the ‘mini-quarantine’ for people coming from European countries, the UK and Israel, if they have a negative swab, proof of vaccination or have recovered from COVID within the last 6 months. Same thing for the U.S.’, he wrote in a post on Facebook.
People entering Italy from other European countries and Israel currently face five days of quarantine and mandatory testing both before arrival and at the end of their isolation period.
The current rules on EU arrivals expire on May 15.
There has been a rush on flights and holiday bookings to the Algarve from next week, but some Brits may choose to go further afield as Europe opens up
For travellers arriving from the United States the required quarantine period is 10 days.
However, for UK holidaymakers, Italy remains on the ‘amber’ list of countries meaning people are being advised not to travel there.
Travellers who go against the guidance and head to an amber destination must self-isolate at home for 10 days and take two post-arrival tests.
Other popular holiday destinations are on the amber list including France, Greece and Spain, whereas Portugal, Israel and Gibraltar are on the green list.
Di Maio said Italy would also be working to increase the number of ‘Covid-free’ flights to and from the United States, and to end the quarantine requirement from June.
Italy began a cautious reopening on April 26 after months of coronavirus restrictions, with bars and restaurants permitted to serve customers outdoors.
The country is desperate for the return of tourists as it seeks to recover from a major recession sparked by the pandemic, but health experts still urge caution.
Italy recorded another 10,000 new cases of Covid-19 on Saturday and 224 deaths, taking the total to more than 122,000 – the highest rate in the EU, while around 27 per cent of the population have received their first vaccination dose.
‘I, like I think most Italians, want to reopen, I want people to go back out to work, to have fun, to be together,’ Prime Minister Mario Draghi told reporters Saturday after an EU summit in Portugal.
‘But… we have to do it safely, that is, calculating the risk that we run.’
He highlighted the importance of getting the EU’s mooted ‘Green Pass’ up and running, which would allow travel within the bloc to those with immunity, vaccinations or a negative coronavirus test. Italy had been the world’s fifth-most visited destination, but visitor numbers collapsed by more than 60 percent from 2019 to 2020.
Google searches for ‘holidays to Portugal’ soared more than 3,000 per cent in the hour after the Government named it as one of the countries that will be on its ‘green’ safe travel list from May 17.
On Friday, the Department for Transport revealed at a Downing Street briefing that travellers will be able to visit 12 destinations – including Portugal – from May 17 without having to self-isolate on return to England.
Speaking soon after the briefing, the boss of a travel firm analysing Google data said that searches for ‘holidays to Portugal’ had ‘skyrocketed’ by 3,233 per cent compared to ten minutes before Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ announcement.
Searches for Israel and Gibraltar – which are also on the green list – were up by 1,329 per cent and 488 per cent, the Sun reported.
However, travel bosses demanded that more countries be put on the quarantine-free list as they criticised the ‘overly cautious’ ministers for only approving 12 destinations so far.
Of the nations and territories on the list, only the above three, as well as Iceland, are allowing Britons in without the need to quarantine.
People returning to England from a green destination from May 17 will not be required to self-isolate and are only required to take one post-arrival coronavirus test.
The green list also features several remote British Overseas Territories and destinations where visits are heavily restricted, such as Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei and the Faroe Islands.