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Transatlantic Flight Updates for the Holidays

While United Airlines landed its first fully Covid-19 tested flight, Heathrow Airport is bracing itself for strike action in December

Published on November 18, 2020

United Airlines Plane Photo: Pascal Renet

United Airlines hosted its first Transatlantic flight with free Covid-19 testing this week, although the run up to the Holidays could prove trickier for flights between the UK and US with strike action planned at Heathrow Airport during 4 days in December.

On November 17, United Flight 14 from Newark Liberty International Airport to London Heathrow marked the airline's first flight with a fully tested crew and passengers. Every passenger over the age of 2 was given a free, rapid Covid-19 test, to help provide a Covid-secure environment on board. Toby Enqvist, chief customer officer for United, explained that "These flights are a good proof-of-concept for governments around the world that are considering making testing part of the travel experience ... expanding our testing efforts with pilot programs like this one not only helps guarantee passengers' onboard test negative for COVID-19, it also adds another element to our layered approach to safety and demonstrates a way to work within quarantines to key international destinations."

United invited members of both the US and UK governments to observe the pilot program, in a bid to encourage a relaxation in Transatlantic flight regulations. At present, only US Citizens, Green Card holders and certain visa holders are able to travel from the UK to the US, while travelers from America to Britain are still required to observe a 14 day quarantine period upon arrival.

While the United Airlines flight took place, Heathrow Airport is also facing the possibility of strike action in December. Unite (the UK's largest trades union) has announced that 24 hour strikes among workers at the airport have been called for Tuesday December 1 and Monday December 14, while a further 48 hour strike is scheduled for Thursday 17 and Friday 18 December. Unite say that those workers involved in the strike could include firefighters, engineers, baggage operators and handlers, as well as operational and airside workers.

Unite say the strike has been called over staff pay cuts, although the union says it is "fully prepared to take part in talks to resolve this dispute anytime, anyplace and anywhere."

In other Transatlantic flight news: Yesterday, November 17, the US and UK signed a new Open Skies agreement, to maintain unrestricted capacity and frequency for cargo and passenger flights between the two countries. The agreement is expected to enter into force at the end of the UK's transition arrangement with the EU, on December 31, 2020, when the existing EU-US Air Transport Agreement will no longer apply to the UK.

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