First New York to London flight with free COVID-19 tests
Nawied Jabarkhyl

The first transatlantic flight to offer free coronavirus testing has touched down in London.

United Airlines flight-14 landed in the British capital just before 7 a.m. local time, after departing from New York's Newark Airport.

All 36 passengers on board tested negative for the virus before being allowed to embark on the journey.

The transatlantic route has long been a crucial one for business, given the role of New York and London as world-leading financial hubs.

But flights have been heavily curtailed since the pandemic, with the U.S. and UK both battling a second wave of COVID-19 cases.

"These flights are a good proof-of-concept for governments around the world that are considering making testing part of the travel experience," said Toby Enqvist, chief customer officer at United.

Like many airlines, the American carrier is facing major losses as a result of the pandemic. Lockdowns and travel restrictions have battered the industry, with many firms struggling to survive.

Britain's easyJet posted its first-ever annual loss in its 25-year history on Tuesday - a deficit of $1.68 billion.

The wider industry is calling on governments to offer more help to restart international travel.

Managing director of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), Virginia Messina, said testing was key: "We believe testing is the solution and it's the way forward before, of course, the vaccine is available. But it's important to say that testing has to be rapid, and obviously, accurate but accessible to consumers too."

Hopes of a COVID vaccine have also been warmly welcomed by the sector.

EasyJet said it saw a 50 percent jump in bookings last week following positive news around Pfizer's jab.

"We know consumer sentiment is very high, people want to get out and travel in 2021," said Messina.

"About 40 percent of people already have bookings for next year but, of course, this vaccine will increase that will to travel."

Despite optimism around a number of vaccination trials, none have been fully approved or rolled out yet. That could make testing all the more important for the industry, particularly in the short-term.

The WTTC's latest figures predict that 174 million jobs are going to be lost in the sector this year, according to Messina.

"In the UK, our sector represents 9 percent of the total economy and 10.3 percent globally and employs 330 million jobs. So, it is very important that we focus on resuming international travel and restoring consumer confidence," she added.