Airlines kick as coronavirus tests raise airfares by 45%

•PCR test cost between $90 and $208
•Arik Air restores Abuja-Maiduguri flights

Airlines, yesterday, raised the alarm over the cost implication of mandatory coronavirus tests, citing the impact on airfares that have spiked by over 45 per cent.

The airlines, following a survey of PCR tests globally, said the cost implication currently borne by travellers raises a barrier against demand surge and air travel recovery.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), therefore, called on governments to ensure that high costs for COVID-19 testing do not put travel out of reach for individuals and families.

The body, representing 280 airlines, said COVID-19 testing must be affordable as well as timely, widely available and effective if the sector must make headway.

Meanwhile, Arik Air has restored flights connecting Nnamdi Azikwe Airport, Abuja and Maiduguri, the Borno State capital. Passengers traveling from Lagos can connect to this service beginning from Monday, May 10, 2021.

An IATA sampling of costs for PCR tests, the test most frequently required by governments in 16 countries, showed wide variations by markets and within markets.

Findings from the markets surveyed, showed that only France complied with the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation for the state to bear the cost of testing for travellers.

Of the 15 markets where there is a cost for PCR testing to the individual, the average minimum cost for testing was $90. The average maximum cost for testing was $208. In Nigeria, the test costs an average of N50, 000 ($105) per entry.

At the average low-end costs, adding PCR testing to average airfares dramatically increases the cost of flying for individuals. Pre-crisis, the average one-way airline ticket, including taxes and charges, costs $200 (2019 data).

A $90 PCR test raises the cost by 45 per cent to $290. By adding another test on arrival, the one-way cost would leap by 90 per cent to $380. Assuming that two tests are needed in each direction, the average cost for an individual return trip could balloon from $400 to $760.

The impact of the costs of COVID-19 testing on family travel would be even more severe. Based on average ticket prices ($200) and average low-end PCR testing ($90) twice each way, a journey for four that would have cost $1,600 pre-COVID, could nearly double to $3,040—with $1440 being testing costs.

IATA’s Director-General, Willie Walsh, said as travel restrictions are lifted in domestic markets, airlines were seeing strong demand and expected the same in international markets.

“But that could be perilously compromised by testing costs – particularly PCR testing. Raising the cost of any product will significantly stifle demand. The impact will be greatest for short-haul trips (up to 1,100 km), with average fares of $105, the tests will cost more than the flight. That’s not what you want to propose to travelers as we emerge from this crisis. Testing costs must be better managed. That’s critical if governments want to save tourism and transport jobs; avoid limiting travel freedoms to the wealthy,” Walsh said.

Travel expert, Sunday Olumegbon, said the multiple test regime was bound to affect travel demand. Olumegbon noted that all booked international flights had increased by an average of N100, 000, without considering the cost of coronavirus mandatory tests.

“An average passenger would require about three COVID-19 tests in the course of a journey. Someone coming from the UK would have done a test over there, do another one upon arrival here. And when leaving Nigeria, he or she would do another. Two tests in Nigeria are over N100, 000. He or she is already looking at a total of N500, 000 for a trip that earlier costs N250, 000. Now, if travel is not very important, how many people will do such a trip? That is where we are now,” Olumegbon said.

Airlines recently urged governments to bear the cost of testing, in compliance with the World Health Organisation’s recommendation. The world health body stipulates that states should not charge for testing or vaccination required for travel or the issuance of certificates.

The WHO COVID Emergency Committee recently reiterated this position, calling on governments to reduce the financial burden on international travellers of complying with testing requirements and any other public health measures implemented by countries.

“Many states are ignoring their international treaty obligations, putting a travel recovery in jeopardy and risking millions of livelihoods. High testing costs also incentivize the market for fake certificates.

Testing costs should not stand between people and their freedom to travel. The best solution is for the costs to be borne by governments. It’s their responsibility under WHO guidelines. We must not let the cost of testing—particularly PCR testing—limit the freedom to travel to the rich or those able to be vaccinated. A successful restart of travel means so much to people—from personal job security to business opportunities and the need to see family and friends. Governments must act quickly to ensure that testing costs don’t stall a travel recovery”.

“If governments are not going to make testing free, at least they must ensure that there is no profiteering by testing companies at the expense of people who just want to get back to some form of normality in their life and travel habits. And that scrutiny should include governments themselves who, under no circumstances, should charge a tax for this critical service,” Walsh said.