Airbridges and corridors do not work. At last it seems the government has realised that playing travel roulette every Thursday and imposing more travel restrictions isn’t effective. Either that or they’ve run out of countries to add to the restrictions. If Saba and St Eustatius have been added, the barrel really does seem to have almost run dry.
So, let’s try testing before travel. After all, the UK only lost some 16,000 positive tests due to an IT hiccup; the equivalent of a day’s capacity between London and New York on a normal October Monday. Can testing seriously make a difference or is this just another political soundbite to try and assure us that every option has been explored?
In theory, testing could be part of the solution - but only part. The suggestion of having to pay £150 for such a test is an immediate turnoff for most travellers, especially for families where the costs of testing could end up as expensive as the airfare.
In a world where we are all trying to recover and stimulate demand why is the cost so high when in other parts of the world it is half the price; are those tests only half accurate then? Could we perhaps offset that testing charge against a waiving of APD…..? (That’s a rhetorical question, given the government’s lack of interest in supporting the industry thus far).
Aside from that, there so seem to be some real unanswered questions about the whole concept of testing. Firstly, where do we test? At the airport seems too far down the travel process and is fraught with logistical challenges. If, as will happen, travellers are found to be Covid-19 positive and prevented from travelling will they receive a full refund from the airline or merely another travel voucher? Will an inbound traveller who tests positive be sent back to the point of origin (at whose expense and will the airline be fined?) or allowed to get a special train to Glasgow like our esteemed members of parliament.
Travellers will need complete reassurance on such points and as we know from the sharp practices of some airlines, the devil is in the detail on what will and will not really happen.
Testing a few days before travel seems more sensible, but where and how can that be applied? Can you rely on the postman or courier to guarantee delivery of the test? Can the laboratory guarantee the test result in time and will the IT even work? It will only need a few cases of results not being received in time for the mainstream press to jump on another Covid-19 scandal (complete with photo of a hapless couple whose holiday dreams have been dashed) to shake confidence even further.
And finally, everything we have read and heard about testing is about the need to scale. You can certainly scale at London Heathrow where there could potentially be enough travellers, and indeed enough revenue at £150 a test, but what about at places such as Norwich and Cardiff. Do they have enough volume? Perhaps testing is designed as an exclusive product only for the big airports and particularly those currently either with a lot of inter-continental traffic or potential; that means Heathrow only.
Yes, testing is part of the solution and any development that helps chips away at the bigger issue is a positive step. But let’s get realistic here and smell the coffee, (if you can smell it, at least it means you’re Covid free!). Until we get a vaccine for a large proportion of the population, until we get agreed acceptance protocols between countries around the world and we carry either vaccine passports or a digitised version, one measure on its own will not be enough.
Meanwhile, if anyone is at Heathrow, could they have a look at lost baggage; there could be 16,000 test results hanging around.
John Grant is a senior analyst at OAG.