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British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and Heathrow are this week, launching a trial to prove it’s possible to quickly and easily identify and verify fully vaccinated passengers arriving in the UK as the travel industry seeks to persuade the government to relax entry restrictions for low-risk travelers.
While most countries in Europe are now allowing travelers arriving from a variety of destinations to visit without the need for any kind of self-isolation or quarantine, the UK still requires visitors from most counties to self-isolate for a minimum of five days regardless of their vaccination status.
Unsurprisingly, this isn’t a situation that the UK’s beleaguered airlines want to see continuing, so the country’s two big long-haul carriers have joined forces with Heathrow Airport to try to demonstrate (to the UK government) how easy it would be to verify a traveler’s vaccination status.
The UK Trial
The trial being run by BA, Virgin Atlantic, and Heathrow Airport will see fully vaccinated volunteers traveling on selected flights from Athens, Los Angeles, Montego Bay, and New York to London Heathrow using internationally recognized credentials to show proof of their vaccination status.
The UK’s NHS app, the USA’s CDC card, and state-level digital certification, as well as the EU Digital Covid Credential, will be the credentials used in the trial and although participants will not be given any new exemptions upon arrival into the UK (they will still have to self-isolate for a minimum of 5 days), it is understood that they will be able to use a dedicated arrivals lane at the UK border instead of the regular lines.
Per the airlines:
British Airways customers flying on applicable trial routes will be contacted by their airline inviting them to participate as part of their existing travel readiness communication.
British Airways trial participants will be able to upload their vaccine credentials alongside existing travel documents. They will then be able to check in online or go to dedicated VeriFLY check-in desks at Athens and JFK Terminal 7. Approved VeriFLY users will then be able to show either their photo within the app with a green authorization checkmark or a QR code newly created for UK arrivals at a dedicated lane within the immigration hall after landing at Heathrow Terminal 5 to validate their credentials.
Virgin Atlantic customers on Los Angeles and Montego Bay flights to London Heathrow will receive personal communications highlighting they are eligible to join the proving trial. Customers will have the option to produce a digital vaccine certificate in person if traveling from Los Angeles, or upload and verify their vaccine credential using a new digital uploader tool, developed in partnership with Delta Air Lines and backed by TrustAssure technology, the link to which will be shared directly with them.
Customers traveling from Montego Bay will be able to produce either paper or digital certificates. Upon arrival at Terminal 2 (or Terminal 3 from 15 July), there will be a dedicated lane within the immigration hall to verify their credentials at the UK Border.
The routes and flights participating in the trial are as follows:
- New York (JFK) to London Heathrow (LHR)
- BA112 Daily, arrives 06:30
- BA182 Daily, arrives 09:40
- Athens (ATH) to London Heathrow (LHR)
- BA623 Daily, arrives 09:55
- BA629 1 x weekly, arrives 16:20
- BA633 1 x weekly, arrives 21:50
- BA637 4 x weekly, arrives 19:05 or 18:55 or 18:25
- BA639 5 x weekly, arrives 15:25 or 15:30
- BA641 5 x weekly, arrives 17:25 or 17:35
- VS24 Los Angeles (LAX) to London Heathrow (LHR), operating daily
- VS166 Montego Bay (MBJ) to London Heathrow (LHR), operating twice a week
Note: For a passenger to be considered “fully vaccinated”, a minimum of 14 days must have passed since they received the final dose of a WHO-approved vaccine (Oxford/Astra Zeneca, Johnson & Johnson (Janssen), Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech, Sinopharm).
This is ridiculous.
Numerous countries around the world are already using well-tested technology to confirm a traveler’s vaccination status, so the fact that British Airways and Virgin Atlantic feel the need to demonstrate something to the UK government that is already being demonstrated (on a daily basis) in countries like Germany, France, Cyprus, and Portugal, just goes to show how out of control the UK’s Covid bureaucracy has become.
If the trial was one that simply demonstrated how fully vaccinated passengers could be fast-tracked at the UK border to prevent them from getting embroiled in the mess that the border frequently turns into (Heathrow’s T2 has been considerably worse than T5 in recent months), that would be fine. But the fact that it would appear that the UK government needs more evidence that official vaccine records can be checked before a traveler embarks on their journey is pathetic.
The government is already (apparently) comfortable with an airline checking a passenger’s Covid test certificate prior to departure, so how is a check of a passenger’s vaccination status any different?
If anything, given the fact that only a very limited number of entities are allowed to issue approved vaccination credentials while thousands of labs worldwide are allowed to issue approved Covid test certificates, the check of a passenger’s vaccination credential should offer considerably more assurance than a check of a Covid test certificate. What part of this does the UK government not get?
I’m fully behind any meaningful efforts that governments keep in place to ensure that new variants don’t run rampant through their populations and that help to keep the more vulnerable members of society safe, but when we reach a point where a government appears to require airlines to reinvent the wheel for no valid reason whatsoever, you know that we’ve reached a new level of idiocy.
It’s good to see BA and Virgin Atlantic trying to take the initiative and doing what they can to get the UK’s restrictions lifted for vaccinated travelers, but the way that the UK government continues to drag its feet on this issue is maddening. I’ve said before that the UK is damaging its vaccination project with its stance on travel for the vaccinated and this latest nonsense doesn’t do anything to change my mind.