Virgin Atlantic has announced plans for a pre-departure Covid-19 testing trial on selected services from Heathrow to Barbados, Antigua and Grenada.

For six weeks from December 9, customers travelling on selected flights to Barbados (which continue onto Antigua and Grenada) will be required to take a rapid, point of care, lateral flow antigen test before they depart.

The free test will be carried out at the Collinson and Swissport Terminal 2 pre-departure testing facility, up to one hour 45 minutes before departure, with results received within 30 minutes.

Customers whose flights are included in the trial will be contacted by Virgin “in the coming days” with further information.

Those customers not wishing to take part in the trial will be offered the choice to rebook free of charge to another Virgin Atlantic flight, and where a customer tests positive they will be able to rebook free of charge or cancel their trip.

Note that the lateral flow antigen test does not replace existing testing requirements to enter the countries concerned – for example passengers flying to Barbados still need to arrange a valid, negative PCR test, no more than three days prior to arrival. For our list of which Covid-19 tests allow you to travel where, see:

Which Covid-19 tests allow you to travel?

Virgin Atlantic is also planning a second trial phase for selected inbound services from December 15.

The airline said that the initiative was “part of an airline-led trial to gather vital data on the logistics and effectiveness of pre-departure testing”.

British Airways and American Airlines recently launched a transatlantic testing trial on selected flights between the United States and London Heathrow.

British Airways and American Airlines launch transatlantic Covid-19 testing trial

Virgin said that these trials “support the latest independent analysis by Oxera and Edge Health which shows that all forms of passenger testing would be more effective than the current 14-day quarantine”.

This week the UK government confirmed plans for a ‘test and release’ strategy for international arrivals to England, ending quarantine after five days and presentation of a negative Covid-19 test.

Commenting on the news 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 and 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.

“Moving to a pre-departure regime, supported by latest independent evidence, would be twice as effective as quarantine. Passengers should be able to take a test from up to 72 hours before departure, including a rapid test at the airport on the day of departure.

“Valid tests should include PCR, Rapid Point of Care LAMP and lateral flow technologies used by government in other settings, with no diversion from NHS testing capacity. We call on the Government to follow the evidence, support industry trials, and lead the way in allowing free movement of people and goods to resume.”

Meanwhile David Evans, Joint CEO at Collinson, commented:

“Airport testing is critical to getting the travel ecosystem moving again, which is why we opened the first and second UK pre-departure testing centres earlier this year.

“We’re excited to partner with Virgin Atlantic on these lateral flow antigen test trials as we continue to lead in this space. As well as giving travellers and arrival destinations some much-needed confidence that all passengers have received a negative result prior to departure, the data from these trials will provide further evidence on the effectiveness of airport testing.

“With the results, the industry can fine-tune testing models to get the best systems in place for broader travel recovery – and we’ll continue to work with our partners across the sector to ensure travel thrives once more.”