U.K. to Require Pre-Arrival Covid Tests for All Travelers

The U.K. will require all travelers to take a pre-flight Covid-19 test within 48 hours prior to their flight regardless of their vaccine status, a surprise government move that prompted a swift and angry reaction from the airline industry.

The measure, which takes effect on Dec. 7, will be temporary and be reviewed as the omicron outbreak develops, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said. More than 150 people across the U.K. have been identified with the new variant.

Travelers will be allowed to take either an instant test or a PCR test. After omicron was detected in the U.K. a week ago, the government added a required PCR test within two days of arrival, requiring travelers to self-isolate until they received a negative result.

The risk of a second lost winter has already tanked shares of airline stocks, with the Bloomberg EMEA Airline Index losing 18% in November, its worst monthly performance in more than a year.

‘Out of Step’

The government’s latest move may put more pressure on airlines and other travel-related companies just before the peak Christmas season. And coming a day after Transport Minister Grant Shapps said tourists would not require pre-departure testing, the government’s apparent about-turn drew criticism from British Airways, its pilots and industry bodies including Airlines UK.

“The blanket re-introduction of testing to enter the U.K., on top of the current regime of isolation and PCR testing on arrival is completely out of step with the rest of the world,” British Airways said.  

The requirement also puts airline jobs and the aviation sector as a whole at risk, the carrier’s pilots association said. In his recent interview with the Daily Telegraph, Shapps had expressly warned that such a move could kill off the travel sector.

“The new costs and stress of travel seem designed to destroy confidence in air travel and the idea of families being confident in booking to re-unite over the holidays, many for the first time since Covid, is now a cruel joke,” Martin Chalk, general secretary of the association, said in a statement.


Javid also announced that Nigeria would also be added to its red list of countries that require a 10-day hotel quarantine at the traveler’s expense.

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, approved of the red list extension but said the new testing measures rendered it impossible for anyone to plan ahead.

“We know from experience that blanket restrictions do not stop the importation of variants,” he said. “It’s already here.” –BLOOMBERG