The results of a joint UK proving trial established by Heathrow, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have demonstrated the UK Government can rapidly expand its Amber policy and remove self-isolation for fully vaccinated US and EU citizens arriving into the UK.
The group’s encouraging trial results come ahead of the UK Government’s next checkpoint to review traffic light measures, due by this Saturday, 31 July. Using a selection of US, Caribbean and European routes, the trial successfully proves that airlines and airports can very effectively check a wider range of recognised vaccination statuses for different nationalities – in both paper and digital format – at the point of departure and away from the UK Border, ensuring no further pressure in immigration halls. Verification checks ensured 99% of credentials were authentic with the remaining 1% successfully denied where documentation requirements were not met.
Under the UK’s current rules, arriving travellers from Amber countries need to have been fully vaccinated as part of the UK’s vaccination programme in order to avoid self-isolation. But this policy excludes travellers who have been fully vaccinated anywhere else in the world.
The restriction is at odds with that of countries such as France, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Cyprus and Malta, which have been welcoming fully vaccinated travellers, including US residents, without the need for self-isolation, from the start of July.
It means that despite the UK’s world-leading vaccine progress, the UK has fallen behind its EU neighbours. Extending the current exemption for fully vaccinated UK travellers to those fully vaccinated in the US and EU would enable the UK to catch up with those other major markets. Latest industry data shows the recovery in US-EU passenger demand at a third of pre-pandemic levels since the exemption was announced for US travellers, compared to US-UK demand which remains at only a fifth of pre-pandemic levels. Trade levels also reflect this trend, with trade routes between the EU and the US now recovered to nearly 50% of pre-pandemic levels while the UK remains at just 8%.
As part of the 10-day trial, fully vaccinated customers on selected flights from Los Angeles, New York, Montego Bay and Athens agreed to share their vaccination status at their departure airport, showing the industry is ready to rapidly adapt and operationalise further vaccination checks, to support a safe reopening of the skies at scale.
Internationally recognised vaccination credentials including CDC cards, New York’s Excelsior Pass and the EU Digital Covid Credential were among the most popular vaccination credentials used by the 250 customers who participated in the trial, alongside NHS certificates.
Key Transatlantic routes were handpicked for the trial, recognising the importance of US-UK air links and the urgent need for a Transatlantic corridor to re-start business, reunite families and allow people to go on holiday. In the US, more than 163m people have been fully vaccinated – including 60% of US adults, while the UK has fully vaccinated more than 37 million people – including 70% of UK adults.
Data from Public Health England has shown two doses of the vaccines offer 79% protection against becoming ill from the Delta variant and reduces the likelihood of needing hospitalisation by 96%.
Sean Doyle, British Airways CEO and Chairman said: “We are confident that this proving trial provides the evidence the Government needs to allow fully vaccinated customers from low-risk countries to enter the UK, knowing it’s possible to do so smoothly and safely. The UK needs to safely re-open its borders as soon as possible to ensure loved ones can reunite, business can thrive and Global Britain is able to take advantage of the UK’s world-leading vaccination programme.”
Shai Weiss, CEO, Virgin Atlantic said: “The UK is already falling behind the US and EU and a continued overly cautious approach towards international travel will further impact economic recovery and the 500,000 UK jobs that are at stake. We urge the UK Government to move the US to the UK’s ‘Green list’ and for the exemption from self-isolation to be extended to all fully vaccinated passengers with WHO-recognised vaccines, beginning with the US and EU. Our proof-of-concept trial demonstrates our readiness as an industry to rapidly operationalise an expanded Amber policy for fully vaccinated travellers, and work with Government and authorities to ensure it is smoothly implemented at pace, supporting the reopening of the Transatlantic corridor.”
John Holland-Kaye, CEO of Heathrow said: “The vaccine has been a miracle of science, and these trials have shown that we can allow fully vaccinated passengers from the EU and US to visit the UK without quarantine. There is now no reason to delay with rolling out the solution from the 31st July.”
Customers in the trial presented a combination of digital or paper-based vaccine credentials for validation, which British Airways customers verified digitally through the VeriFLY app, while Virgin Atlantic customers used a digital uploader tool developed in partnership with Delta Air Lines and backed by TrustAssure™ technology. Digitally pre-verified vaccination statuses were authenticated in minutes, helping to speed up the airport Check In process, alongside existing checks for a completed Passenger Locator Form (PLF) and valid pre-departure test.