As the UK’s test-before-travel scheme took effect, passengers have been turned away from a transatlantic flight because the airline did not regard their negative Covid tests as sufficiently high standard.
Hannah Holland, a 23-year-old British woman from Sheffield, was booked to travel on American Airlines (AA) from Philadelphia via Chicago’s O’Hare airport to London Heathrow.
It was the first departure of flight AA86 for which passengers were required to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before being allowed onboard.
New rules for arrivals to the UK took effect at 4am; the flight from Chicago was due to arrive at Heathrow airport at 8.40am.
Ms Holland, who has been in the US caring for her grandfather, had taken an antigen Covid test – one of the options approved by the UK government – within 72 hours of departure.
She told The Independent: “I was boarding in Philadelphia, where they checked my Covid test papers.
“They said: ‘That’s absolutely fine, no problem, go through to your flight.’
"It was the easiest thing in the world until I got to Chicago.
“It was only then that one attendant looked at my paper and said: ‘That’s not sufficient. You're not getting on this flight.’
“She kind of threw this list of Chicago testing centres to me and was like, ‘Yeah, have a look at that. Goodbye.’”
The UK government says “an antigen test, such as a test from a lateral flow device” is acceptable – though it stipulates that the traveller must “ensure the test meets the minimum standards for sensitivity, specificity and viral load details”.
American’s partner carrier, British Airways, simply asks for “evidence of a negative Lamp, PCR or antigen Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours of their departure”.
Ms Holland said other passengers were also denied boarding flight AA86.
The Boeing 787 departed late, though it is not known if that was connected with turning travellers away and unloading their baggage.
Ms Holland was eventually flown back to Philadelphia. Her father has asked her MP to intervene.
An American Airlines spokesperson said: "Unfortunately, on this occasion Ms Holland’s test certificate did not meet all of the criteria as outlined by the UK government mandate.
"The certificate did not specify the name of the test device as required, and therefore travel to the UK could not be permitted as per government guidelines. Taking care of our customers during this difficult time is our priority.
:Our team have been actively trying to reach Ms Holland to assist prior to her rescheduled trip tomorrow.”
The Independent is also receiving reports that British travellers from Cuba whose flight to Madrid was late missed their connection from the Spanish capital on Sunday and have now been denied boarding a service to London.
On Friday, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, revealed that only one in 1,000 of the coronavirus cases in England in December were brought in from abroad.