The head of global airline industry body IATA has hit out at the high cost of COVID-19 testing, accusing providers of profiteering from travel, and calling for the industry to challenge whether PCR tests are necessary.
European airlines are counting on a travel rebound this summer after months of COVID-19 restrictions left them struggling with minimal revenues and huge new debts taken on to survive the pandemic.
But any demand for PCR tests that can cost more than the short flights themselves threatens the recovery.
“We’re clearly seeing evidence of profiteering by people who have jumped on the testing bandwagon,” Willie Walsh, IATA’s new director general, said at a virtual industry conference on Tuesday.
He said that governments had mandated PCR tests and were then charging value added tax on the cost of the testing, a scenario which he said needed to be challenged.
“The cost of testing should be significantly lower than it is. I think we’ve got to challenge whether PCR testing is necessary,” he said.
PCR tests, the so-called gold standard test, can cost around 100 pounds ($140) in Britain.
Airline bosses, led by easyJet Chief Executive Johan Lundgren, say PCR tests will make travel too expensive for many and are calling for authorities to instead allow travellers to use lateral flow or antigen tests which are much cheaper and give results more quickly.
“We can’t have a situation where only the wealthy are able to travel. That would be a shame and a disgrace and everyone in the industry should be pushing back,” Walsh said.
Walsh said that lateral flow and rapid antigen tests are “just as effective” in the context where there are other measures in place to help manage risk.
Photo: Travelers wearing a protective face masks ride an escalator in the departures hall at Suvarnabhumi international airport in Bangkok, Thailand. EPA-EFE/DIEGO AZUBEL