British Airways: new boss demands pre-flight testing

'We need to get the economy moving again and this just isn't possible when you're asking people to quarantine for 14 days,' said BA’s chief executive, Sean Doyle

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Monday 19 October 2020 13:26
BA urges government to scrap quarantine for international arrivals

In his first public appearance since taking over at British Airways, the new boss, Sean Doyle, has demanded testing before departure rather than quarantine after arrival – and said that the airline is getting no help from governments on either side of the Atlantic.

Mr Doyle, who took over from Alex Cruz as BA’s chief executive a week ago, told the Airlines 2050 online conference: “We do not believe quarantine as a solution. We believe the best way to reassure people is to introduce a reliable and affordable test before flying from the UK.

“We need to get the economy moving again and this just isn't possible when you're asking people to quarantine for 14 days."

He rejected the so-called “test-and-release" plan that the government’s Global Travel Taskforce has mooted, saying:  “It’s our view that even if the quarantine period is reduced to seven days, people would not travel here and the UK will get left behind.”

“We need a fundamental rethink. Air connectivity between the UK and USA is fundamental.”

British Airways is currently losing around £20m per day. The airline has been extremely hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with business travel evaporating and leisure passengers lacking confidence because of frequent changes in government travel rules.

Its flagship route, London Heathrow to New York JFK, was previously the world’s first billion-dollar link, with revenue of $1bn (£770m) annually on 12 daily flights.

At present it is operating just two lightly loaded daily departures. Mr Doyle said on a typical day they carried fewer than 200 people.

A US presidential proclamation in March banned non-American travellers from transatlantic flights from the UK. 

Mr Doyle did not refer to reports at the weekend that suggested BA will dramatically downsize its operations at Gatwick in favour of its home base, Heathrow.

British Airways has already cancelled all short-haul flights from Gatwick until March 2021. A fleet of long-haul Boeing 777s is operating a handful of mainly Caribbean links.

Today the only BA departures from the Sussex airport are to Barbados and Kingston, Jamaica. Links from Gatwick to Orlando in Florida and the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius are due to re-commence next month.

The Mail on Sunday reported that the reduction in Gatwick flights will continue in the medium term, with routes transferred to Heathrow.

Mr Doyle’s predecessor, Alex Cruz, cut around 10,000 of the airline’s pre-pandemic workforce of 42,000 – almost one-quarter of the total.

Among remaining staff, many have seen changes to their employment contracts.

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