10 things we learnt on the day international travel resumed

·6-min read
Britons can now travel according to the government's traffic list system - Ben Queenborough/PinPep
Britons can now travel according to the government's traffic list system - Ben Queenborough/PinPep

Not for the first time in the last 12 months, British holidaymakers packed their bags and popped the airport Wetherspoons bubbles yesterday (May 17) as international travel got the go-ahead.

As part of the Government's traffic light system, holidays are now approved to 12 green-listed destinations. Only three, however, are allowing British holidaymakers in without major restrictions and quarantine on arrival.

So we sent our correspondents on the earliest flights available, to find out what was going on in the (relatively) hassle-free locations of Madeira, Lisbon, Gibraltar and Iceland.

What did they learn? There is a new, unfriendly tone to flight passenger announcements; a little thing called Brexit is causing longer queues than Covid-19 regulations; and rules can change at very short notice indeed (ie, while you’re in the air).

You can follow all of yesterday’s discoveries and revelations on the @TelegraphTravel’s #GreatUnlock thread on Twitter.

Aerial view of Madeira coastline - Cristian Mircea Balate/iStockphoto
Aerial view of Madeira coastline - Cristian Mircea Balate/iStockphoto

Passenger announcements are taking an unpleasant tone

Back in the day, a friendly in-flight announcement might warn you of some forthcoming turbulence, or perhaps give a jolly call-out to passengers celebrating a special occasion.

Not on Charlotte Lynch’s flight to Portugal yesterday. Lynch, who was travelling to Faro for LBC Radio, was surprised to hear the flight captain announce:

"This isn't a kindergarten, this is a two-hour flight. If you can't wear your masks, you will be starting your holiday in Portugal in a police station."

Have a great holiday, everyone.

Britons ignored Government advice on ‘amber’ destinations

Thousands of British holidaymakers flouted Government advice and boarded flights to red and amber list destinations, despite Matt Hancock advising the opposite in an interview on Sunday.

Of the 21 Tui flights scheduled to depart Gatwick yesterday, only two were to green-listed countries: morning flights to the Portuguese islands of Porto Santo and Funchal (Madeira). The rest were to 18 different amber destinations, including Greek islands, the Balearics and North African destinations including Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.

Empty street in Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia - Kelly Cheng/Moment RF 
Empty street in Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia - Kelly Cheng/Moment RF

Nathan Priestley, 31, from Wokingham in Berkshire, was heading to Corfu with Tui this morning. Asked whether he was worried about the quarantine he faced on arrival back in the UK, he told Sky News: "For me, I work from home at the moment so it's neither here nor there."

Rules can change while you’re in the air

Despite assurances that no tests were required prior to or on arrival in Gibraltar, our reporter Emma Featherstone was handed an unwelcome slip on arrival at ‘The Rock’ yesterday morning.

It turns out she had to take a lateral flow test during her first 24 hours in the overseas territory. The border control official told her: "It has changed this morning, you have to get a rapid test. It's free, they will call you in 24 hours." She's free to travel around, in the meantime.

Goes to show that these rules can change with very little notice indeed – you may even be in the air, like Emma was.

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Coronavirus isn’t the thing causing the queues in Madeira

Our man on the ground in Madeira, Chris Leadbeater, found that there were queues at the airport – not because of coronavirus regulations, but rather due to the UK now being outside of the EU. Manual passport checks and no e-Gate meant a bigger build up for British arrivals.

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The NHS ‘vaccine passport’ works

Our reporter Mark Stratton, travelled to green-listed Iceland. He used the NHS app to provide proof of his vaccination status – possibly one of the first times a British person used the NHS app to gain entry to a country.

It went perfectly smoothly. The same can’t be said for when Guy de la Bedoyere attempted to download the NHS app for a forthcoming holiday.

Iceland is offering free tests

As well as accepting proof of vaccination via the UK’s NHS app without a hitch, Iceland is offering free Covid-19 tests for arrivals. Sadly, the UK cannot be said to be offering the same service (see below). What’s more, the results came through in just four hours.

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A glimpse of the future: single-use salad tongs

Chris Leadbeater has seen a glimpse of the future, and it was at the Riu Palace buffet in Madeira. Need we say more?

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PCR tests for arrivals in the UK could cost you £575

The Government released its list of approved companies through which you can book your PCR tests on arrival back to the UK. Green-list arrivals need to take one on day two, while amber-list arrivals must take two tests on days two and eight.

Shockingly, the Government’s list included one firm called the Mayfair GP Clinic which lists a single PCR test for green-list arrivals for £399, or (the bargainous) £575 for two for amber-list arrivals. The cheapest available is £54.90, through Eurofins Forensic Services. You can find the full list here.

Not everywhere was as warm as Gibraltar

Adventure travel writer, Simon Parker, is about to embark on a cross-Britain cycle. He’s starting in the Isles of Scilly, where he was greeted with 40mph winds and 4-degree temperatures on the boat ride over. Not quite what he was expecting, when he organised the trip for May 17.

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We missed travel, a lot

Marauding macaques in Gibraltar, an active volcano in Iceland, bustling street terraces in Lisbon. Aside from all the tests, red tape and certifications involved, yesterday reminded us of how much we’ve missed that most simple, delightful liberty. Which, with a bit of luck, we won’t lose again due to Covid-19. The freedom to travel the world.

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