Study: Evidence from testing trials show testing can help restart travel

March 31, 2021 • Reading time 3 minutes

Posted 25/03/2021

  • The study is the first independent analysis of real-world UK airport data collected from 71,000 tests using data from airline trials and testing at Heathrow over the last six months
  • The real-world findings from the airline trials involving American Airlines, British Airways, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic indicate that 74% of infections are identified by pre-departure testing
  • The data from passengers shows how a properly designed testing regime can be an effective safeguard for restarting international travel safely

The first analysis of real-world UK airport passenger COVID test results by Oxera and Edge Health confirms that testing is an effective measure for reducing the transmission of the virus through travel. Data from airline trials conducted with passengers travelling to and from Heathrow found that a single test administered pre-departure was capable of detecting 74% of infections.

If implemented as part of a risk-based approach to travel, the findings suggest that policymakers could accelerate the reopening of markets by agreeing to roll-out a consistent testing regime internationally. Designing and deploying such a regime across markets would reduce the risk of spreading infections, while also boosting passenger confidence to fly and kickstarting economic recoveries around the world. The study also found that there are already cost-effective, reliable and scalable testing solutions on the market today.

Results from the study are consistent with the testing scheme study from Toronto Pearson Airport, conducted in March 2021.

Edge Health and OXERA’s report includes insights from representatives from Heathrow and the airlines that participated in the trial – American Airlines, British Airways, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic – to better understand the operational factors involved with implementing new testing regimes. Respondents voiced concerns over lack of consistency between different countries with regards to testing standards and test quality, demonstrating the need for an agreed common approach to testing across markets.

George Batchelor, Cofounder and Director of Edge Health, said:

‘Our study shows that testing can be extremely effective in screening COVID-19 infections and helps to rebuild passenger confidence. However there needs to be greater cohesion across different jurisdictions when it comes to testing. Differences between requirements across different countries are confusing to passengers and lead to delays when getting documentation verified at the airport. Standardisation across jurisdictions would eliminate many of these problems both for passengers and airport staff.’

Michele Granatstein, Partner at Oxera and Head of its Aviation Practice said:

‘There’s no doubt that testing airline passengers will be a necessity for the foreseeable future; this latest study provides empirical evidence that testing could enable the safe restart of air travel.’

Notes to editors

Data used in the report was collected from three trials conducted by:

· oneworld, American Airlines and British Airways on routes from the USA to Heathrow;

· United Airlines on the route from Newark Airport to Heathrow;

· Virgin Atlantic on the route from Heathrow to Barbados.

Data was also collected from Collinson and Cignpost, which have been conducting pre-departure testing at Heathrow Airport.


The independent review was commissioned by Heathrow Airport.

Contact: George Batchelor

Posted 25/03/2021

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Edge Health are a specialist UK healthcare analytics consultancy that use data and insights to improve the delivery of health and care services, so that better outcomes can be delivered more efficiently.