Oxford study confirms a comprehensive Covid-19 testing program can help re-open international travel

The results of a joint testing trial conducted by American Airlines, British Airways and the oneworld Alliance shows that a comprehensive Covid-19 testing program can help re-open international travel, safely. This is underpinned by analysis from researchers at the University of Oxford, who studied data on how passengers evaluate risk and comply with Covid-19 rules.

The study by the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), ‘Trust, Testing and Travel, Technology Use, Traveller Knowledge and Compliance with COVID-19 Health Rules’, analysed aggregated survey data from almost 600 travelers who took part in the voluntary testing trial on select flights from the U.S. to London Heathrow (LHR), between November 2020 and March 2021. The trial offered three complimentary COVID-19 tests, taken throughout the transatlantic journey.

Customers participating in the trial, conducted in two phases, took an initial PCR test at 72 hours prior to departure; a second test (LAMP) upon arrival at London Heathrow (LHR); and a third test (PCR) taken three to five days after arrival in the UK.

In the trial’s first phase, just 1% of travelers who took a test within 72 hours of their departure tested positive and, as a result of the test, they did not travel. None of the travelers who took a test upon arrival at LHR tested positive. Of the travelers who took the third test after arriving in the UK, just 0.4%, of travelers tested positive.

The analysis by researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute suggests that the testing trial results were “broadly consistent” with earlier testing trial programmes in the aviation industry.

Importantly, 99.7% of travelers said they were happy to adhere to COVID-19 testing requirements as an alternative to quarantine after international travel and are prepared to pay for affordable testing.

Almost 70% of travelers said they would travel if required to take a COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to departure. The same number said they would be willing to take a COVID-19 test before departure as well as after arrival. More than 70% of travelers said they would be likely to travel if required to take a test at the airport before departure, and about 75% of travelers are willing to be tested at the airport upon arrival at their destination.

Asked what they would be prepared to pay, nearly 80% of travelers said they would pay for COVID-19 testing, with the majority prepared to pay US$ 50 (£35) or less for each test. Only 15% of travelers are prepared to pay more than US$ 100 (£70) for COVID-19 testing.

Findings of the Oxford study will be shared with governments and stakeholders, in an important addition to the growing body of knowledge that shows how comprehensive COVID-19 testing can provide governments the confidence they need to lift entry restrictions and allow travel to safely resume.

Prof Philip Howard, Professor of Internet Studies at Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, said: “As many countries make progress on vaccinating their citizens the debate over reopening travel safely is becoming increasingly important. I’m pleased our team has been able to make a contribution to this discussion through this detailed analysis of passenger sentiment and behaviour.”

In a joint statement on the Oxford findings, American Airlines, British Airways and oneworld said: “The Oxford study further reinforces that customers are willing to undergo COVID-19 testing as an alternative to quarantine. The trial findings underline the important role that testing can play in the safe reopening of international travel, including hugely significant routes between the U.S. and UK. The affordability of testing is crucial for travelers, and we stand ready to partner with governments and the private sector to offer affordable testing options for our customers who would like or need to travel again.”