NEWS: COVID detection trials at Heathrow & Should the government be doing more to help prevent an aviation “death spiral”?

BA's unused aircraft at Bournemouth. Photo by James Williams

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COVID detection trials landing at Heathrow

Heathrow CEO, John Holland-Kaye informed the House of Commons Transport Committee yesterday that the airport is to trial technologies and processes which could form the basis of a Common International Standard for health screening at all global airports. The aim of the collective measures being trialled is to reduce the risk of contracting or transmitting Covid-19 while travelling.

The package of measures that will need to be adopted will consist of tried and tested processes and technology as well as innovations new to the airport environment. Concepts under review as part of the Heathrow trials include: UV sanitation, which could be used to quickly and efficiently sanitise security trays (who is picturing Donald Trump’s infamous speech right now?) facial recognition thermal screening technology to accurately track body temperature; and contact-free security screening equipment to reduce person-to-person contact.

Before any new measures are rolled out across the airport, they will be reviewed against Heathrow’s three tests to ensure that they are medically grounded, build consumer confidence and practical for airports to deliver.

The first of these trials will be a temperature screening technology which uses camera detection systems capable of monitoring the temperatures of people moving through the airport. These passenger-facing trials will first be conducted in the airport’s immigration halls. If successful, the equipment will then be rolled out to departures, connections and colleague search areas. The trials will begin in the next two weeks in Terminal 2.

Heathrow CEO, John Holland-Kaye, said: “Aviation is the cornerstone of the UK economy, and to restart the economy, the Government needs to help restart aviation. The UK has the world’s third largest aviation sector offering the platform for the Government to take a lead in agreeing a Common International Standard for aviation health with our main trading partners. This Standard is key to minimising transmission of Covid-19 across borders, and the technology we are trialling at Heathrow could be part of the solution.”


Should the government be doing more to help prevent an aviation “death spiral”?

airport planes aircraft landing

Yesterday I listened to the House of Commons Transport Committee reference above and there was an overriding theme – the government need to be showing far more leadership to help the aviation sector – not just for airlines but to protect consumers as well.

The people who contributed to the session were:

  • Witness(es): Simon Calder; Mark Tanzer, Chief Executive, ABTA – The Travel Association

  • Witness(es): John Holland-Kaye, Chief Executive, Heathrow Airport Limited; Tim Alderslade, Chief Executive, Airlines UK; Deborah Bowen Rees, Vice Chair, Regional and Business Airport Group and Karen Dee, Chief Executive, Airport Operators Association

  • Witness: Tim Alderslade, Chief Executive, Airlines UK

ABTA and Simon Clader spoke about the issues facing airlines and travel agents in processing refunds and called on the government to help. Travel agents are now relying on suppliers returning money before they can process refunds and it is virtually impossible for them to comply with the 14 day refund retirement under law. Equally, airlines are all behaving differently. Mainly they are trying to avoid having to pay refunds but many such as Ryanair are right on the edge of breaking the law in refusing refunds for an indeterminate length of time. Yet the government has done little to help with the situation. Understandably they are facing bigger issues, but as we begin to look at how we get out of lockdown and restore the economy, aviation is a vital sector to the economy.

The airlines again felt that not enough was being done to both help and regulate with both BA and Virgin cited as examples of how job losses are already starting even before the end of the government’s furlough scheme. There was an interesting quote about one comment about the government helping a “billionaire” rescue his airline from the Heathrow CEO. He said that refusing a loan to Virgin because of Richard Branson was “cutting off your nose to spite your face” given both the resulting job losses, the withdrawal from Gatwick and its impact as well as the lack of competition that would leave in UK aviation.

BALPA the pilots union has already called for the government to step in

Brian Strutton from the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) said:

“The government has not recognised the crisis in aviation and has not done enough to prevent what is now happening: a death spiral that could severely damage UK aviation.”

“Balpa will not stand by and watch the industry crumble – or allow airlines to use this as a chance to make unfair redundancies, or make unnecessary reductions to terms and conditions.

“The government needs to step in now: not only with a package of support, but also to put a proper aviation plan in place, agreed by all stakeholders, to avoid opportunistic attacks on terms and conditions.

“In the meantime there should be no knee-jerk decisions and a moratorium on any job losses.”

There were also strong calls from airlines and airports for a common standard to be drawn across the world about opening borders and how to make air travel safe for the public. I totally agree with this and also agree that countries should be working out a common set of standards of when to open their borders with each other.

The potential of a 14 day quarantine period for entry to the UK was discussed but widely criticised as it would kill tourism completely just as aviation begins to recover. Screening passengers was seen as the way forward. They also agreed that social distancing is pretty much impossible on an aircraft in an effective way. It would also be unsustainable long term. 

There was also discussion around APD, the UK’s high departure tax and whether that should be scrapped. As APD is touted as a “green” measure, it was asked whether airlines that are given rescue packages should be given green targets as part of the package. In France for example, they have tied in government help to Air France in terms of their environmental commitment. Air France will not be allowed to operate certain domestic routes where ether is a high-speed train link. 

What do you think the government should be doing to help aviation recover or to help consumers affected by cancelled flights? Let us know in the comments below or on social media. 


20 Comments on "NEWS: COVID detection trials at Heathrow & Should the government be doing more to help prevent an aviation “death spiral”?"

  1. Hi Michelle, Sorry to hear about the issues and subsequent comments re advertising yesterday. It’s entirely understandable that you may have to do things a little differently at present – I’m pretty sure we are all having to adapt in ways we would prefer not to right now! The ads certainly don’t bother me at all and I completed the survey to that effect – but I’d also be happy to pay a small fee/donation as the site is totally worth it.

  2. Yesterday the adds were nuts but that was as you say a teething error. Some bizarre ads it has to be said but you have no control over those. I would rather not get into a subscription cycle but would contemplate it. Anyone who reads your emails / these pages must be helped immeasurable and that’s worth something financially. Keep up the good work.

  3. Great blog and don’t worry about the fools that are so easy to criticise. They should try offering what you do. Many thanks again

  4. Hi Michelle, my comment yesterday was meant to be constructive, glad you managed to sort it out 🙂 (I am thinking fewer comments = less engagement = less traffic?) Keep up the good work!

    • Your comment was fine Pete! It helped as I hadn’t realised there was an issue! Always happy with polite comments!

  5. Its easy, you should have a medical certificate from your GP to travel, showing you are fit and healthy, for example not be a person who should be “shielding” or possibly under a certain age. People who are in the healthy category may still get the virus or have it, but it will not be life threatening for 99.9%. The world needs to be exposed slowly to this virus so that we build up immunity, it should not be treated like a terrorist threat at airports. The stats have now shown that it kills very disproportionately the elderly and critically ill, the only way to protect them is for the rest of the world population to have immunity and then they also will be protected as the virus will not spread. All this stuff at airports will just be to make people feel safe, but will be rubbish, travelling is never 100% safe. For example there has been more people saved on the roads in South Africa due to the lockdown than have died from Covid! Lets open up and get on with life we now know that this virus has a reasonable low fatality rate of <0.1%% for anyone under 70.

    • I agree with so much of what you say. My only disagreement is that a passenger should present a medical certificate before flight. A person has a responsibility for their own wellbeing and if they feel their health is compromised AND they are scared of the risk, then they should not fly. Every activity involves risk; aviation itself practises risk management to stay safe. I’m prepared to catch the virus and self isolate if necessary. To be frank, I’m more likely to die on the journey to the airport.

      • I have to agree with you James. I believe airports should be assessing the risk to other passengers, not to themselves. There could be situations where someone is terminally ill for example and is willing to take the risk so why should they be stopped. As long as you are not infectious and fit to fly it’s fine. How they prove that is another matter. I’m sure within a few months there will be businesses offering to do tests and give you some sort of certificate of being non COVID

  6. Dear Michelle, I love reading your website and appreciate the love and care you clearly take in nurturing your baby! Keep up the good work!

  7. Dear michelle
    I love this site. I’m very glad you’re managing to keep it going and if that means a few adverts then it really doesn’t matter.
    Thank you to you and your team.

  8. Richard Hague | 7 May 2020 at 7:57 am |


    Ads dont bother me at all – what site doesnt have them?! The blog has been even more useful than ever over the last couple of months and I’d echo Annas (6.27am) comments.

    Keep up the great work.

  9. Hi Michele, congratulations on being appointed to write for Forbes! The ads as the bottom is a better idea so it doesn’t interfere .with the flow of your articles. Keep up your great work and don’t let the critics get to you.

  10. Hi Michele
    there is a typo – should be off not of
    Richard Branson was “cutting of your nose

  11. Shaneen Benson | 7 May 2020 at 10:13 am |

    In all honesty the ads don’t bother me at all. Personally I just scroll past as I’d do on any other site.
    It’s a reality in today’s environment to enable many blogs to be able to continue.
    I’d rather have the ads and not the subscription. I’ve learnt a lot and saved a lot of money with your tips.
    Ignore he nasty comments. The complainers don’t have to follow if they find the ads intrusive.

  12. Hi Michele, I really enjoy your website and find it very informative. Ignore the criticism regarding advertising and keep up the good work especially under these difficult times.

  13. I’ll add my voice of appreciation for TLFL. I’ve been following for at least a year now, and it’s a good part of my morning routine. I don’t have any interest in hotels, so skip those days. Thanks to TLFL, last year I went to see a friend in México from Madrid Iberia Biz class, did a BA 1st to SFO and have organised a Qatar Biz trip to Singapore for a big birthday do for one of my past loves, all return flights and together less than £4000.
    The internet is a nightmare, I’m afraid. Apart from Vladimir perverting elections and referenda, people are bored and simply rude, hiding behind their Macs. Many expect all content to be free, and it is, providing advertising is used. You make a good point about constructive criticism, which is, I’m sure, welcome. One word insults are really to be ignored.

  14. As I said in a previous comment, we are all battling our way through the Covid-19 minefield.

    The TLFL ad issue is a prime example of how we’re having to adapt to the lives we find ourselves leading. Very few of us get everything right first time, so we need to allow individuals and businesses the opportunity to fine tune things – providing that will is there in the first place!

    One of the reasons TLFL is the only travel blog I subscribe to is because their reviews tend to be objective and kind, and without any of the snide comments or unreasonable expectations seen elsewhere. Therefore, I can see why Michelle would be upset to get adverse comments when she is trying to do her best under exceptional circumstances!

    My hope – when the ‘new normal’ becomes the norm – is that people will not be so quick to criticise, and appreciate what another person is trying to do for them. I’m not asking too much, am I?!

    • Exactly how I feel Duncan. I can never understand why people feel it’s acceptable to be rude and unpleasant to people online when they would not say it to their face. If the current situation doesn’t teach us we are all human beings in this together, it makes me worry for the future.

  15. Agree with what others say, I enjoy reading your site regularly and understand you need adverts to make the site viable! They don’t bother me. Please don’t let a few grumpy people get u down!
    With regards to travel, I had a couple of trips to Thailand earlier in the year, including a stressful early return at the end of March as the world started to shut down. The one thing that I was really impressed with was the level of screening & reporting they had in place at the airports versus returning to the UK to find nothing. It really was a shock. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel in the UK as many Asian countries have been delivering scanning and tracking via an app for arriving passengers for a while now. And I really feel requesting a doctors certificate isn’t workable as our overloaded NHS doesn’t need the extra workload at this time.

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