a man in an orange vest waving at an airplane

Update: this article has been updated with official comment from British Airways

British Airways is about to take the lead in UK air travel safety, becoming the first European airline to require a negative covid-19 test prior to travel on select flights, according to well placed sources familiar with the matter.

Suggestions indicate the the move would be be part of a private partnership with Boots, a leading UK pharmacy with ties to the USA, to help aid in rapid testing access with numerous locations.

British Airways Covid-19 Testing

Sources within British airways, with direct knowledge of the matter, suggest British Airways will partner with Boots Pharmacy to offer covid-19 testing at a considerable number of UK locations for both passengers and crew, as part of efforts to add safety to air travel.

If true, a recent negative covid-19 test result will be mandatory for British Airways passengers headed to select international departure points, and details of the move are expected to be announced within the next week, for flights departing as soon as three to four weeks from now.

Though negative tests are already required by many destinations in advance of travel, the double down move could offer a vital confidence factor toward restoring air travel safety.

While testing may not stop all cases, it mitigates risk and provides a meaningful layer of comfort to passengers, with less fear that the person next to them could be of concern. For many, it could be enough to book once again. Since the publishing of this article, British Airways offered the following comment…

We are doing everything we can to make travel as safe and stress-free as possible for our customers in these unprecedented times. We are currently discussing the possibility of helping our customers access pre-flight testing through third parties if their destination requires this,”

British Airways is not making pre-flight testing mandatory for *all* customers. British Airways Press Office

*”All” emphasis from GSTP. Whether British Airways is making testing mandatory, or the destination itself is making testing mandatory is semantics to some extent. Emirates initially required testing for just over a handful of destinations, before quickly switching to mandatory testing for all.

LONDON, UK - August 10th, 2018: view of Heathrow airport with stormy skies and British Airways airplanes at their stands

Boots colleagues will be fully trained to swab test potential BA passengers, and training for Boots employees is said to begin next week, according to British Airways sources speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Though Boots is yet to be officially confirmed, perhaps most compelling to an airline with fortunes made across the Atlantic, Boots is owned by American pharmacy giant Walgreens, as the Walgreens Boots Alliance.

If realized, the partnership would pave the way for rapid testing on both sides of the Atlantic, which may prove key to any quarantine free travel between the US and UK, when borders open.

Quarantine Free Travel?

If the British Airways x Boots collaboration goes ahead as believed, it represents a significant development in UK air travel. UK Government has yet to agree to testing in lieu of current 14 day quarantine, stating it’s not a “silver bullet”, but the move could apply pressure for government to reconsider, if bilateral interest arises from the United States.

Emirates was the first airline to require covid-19 testing prior to flight for some, but not *all* passenger, a move which initially quickly rolled out globally for *all* passengers. Boots currently assists Emirates with UK testing access.

a sign with flags on it

In exchange for the burden of taking a covid-19 test, Emirates offers all passengers complimentary covid-19 health coverage up to $150,000, for up to 31 days from the date of their departure, taking a major stress out of travel in the covid-19 era.

Details on pricing and any concessions for British Airways passengers have yet to emerge, but this article will be updated as they do. For now, it’s safe to assume things will be less expensive than private testing in London, which currently runs between £99-£199 for results within 48 hours, or less for longer lead times.

Update: It’s understood that the British Airways x Boots collaboration could offer a website where customers could schedule appointments online at their location of best convenience.

While the news may prove difficult for some travellers, particularly those connecting from regional airports with fewer facilities, it’s a strong move to further ensure safety in air travel, while restoring customer confidence. The World Travel & Tourism Council recently stated that rapid testing was the only way to save the travel industry, and British airways appears to have gotten the memo, and early too.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

Join the Conversation


  1. So would this mean onboard service levels return to normal instead of “the box”
    And does it mean there will no longer be a requirement to wear masks in the plane or indeed in T5 since all people should be negative

    I suspect there will be no joined up thinking on any of this…

    1. I don’t have any info on the above, sadly. Given that testing doesn’t weed out 100%, I’d personally assume some levels of added hygiene and social distancing measures would remain.

  2. Sounds eminently sensible but can’t help but suspect a commercial motivation given BAs past performances… Spending time and resources on the actual effective cabin cleaning rather than PR about “enhanced arrangements” would still be top of my list
    I have a comoetititive longhaul catering offer would also be a good way for BA to level up to the average.

  3. Stupid, it just tells you you didn’t have covid19 when tested. I was going to go to the Caribbean but eight hours in a mask put me off.

    1. I’m not sure I follow. You wouldn’t want to sit someone with less chance of an active case? And you weren’t going to book because of the masks anyway?!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *