The starting claxon for the resumption of international holidays has sounded – thousands of travel-starved Britons will travel to green-listed Portugal on May 17, with flights also taking off to Iceland and Gibraltar.
It’s the first time since mid-January that it hasn’t been illegal to leave the country for a holiday and for many it’s the first opportunity in over a year to escape our home shores.
After being locked down in our homes for so long it’s understandable that the prospect of returning to the nation’s airports might feel alien to the majority of us. With a plethora of new rules to follow at check-in, a traffic light system and a complex testing regime in place, the thought of heading to the airport is quite rightly a little daunting.
Here we break down the key questions for prospective holidaymakers and reveal what you can expect when flying in the new normal.
Do I need to take a test before going to the airport?
Most likely, but this depends on where you’re flying to and whether they require proof of a negative Covid-19 test to allow you to enter – it’s imperative that you check the latest entry requirements for your destination before your trip, as they can change at the last minute.
Anybody travelling to Portugal, for example, is required to show a negative PCR at the time of boarding. According to the Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office’s website: “The test must have been taken within 72 hours of departure. Your airline is likely to deny boarding if you cannot provide this at check-in.”
A handful of destinations have adopted a more laissez-faire approach in a bid to welcome back Britons. Germany will remove the need to present a negative test for any fully vaccinated UK travellers, while Netherlands and Spain will allow anyone in without testing or proof of vaccination so long as they come from a country with a low case rate, like the UK.
Gatwick Airport's website advises: “Make sure both the type of test and the test provider’s certificate (which could be paper or digital) are accepted by the country you are travelling to.” If you need a test before you depart for your destination there are a number of testing sites that have been erected at the UK’s airports, plus some airlines are also offering services to their passengers. The Government has a full list of approved private testing provider here – you shouldn’t use the NHS service.
Will I need to provide proof of vaccination? If so, how?
Some countries are set to allow vaccinated travellers to enter, often without the need to also provide a negative test result, including Germany, Greece and Croatia. The easiest way to do this is via the free NHS app on your smartphone – it’s highly recommended to register with the app and get all your documents in check before you travel, to avoid delay.
If you do not have access to a smartphone, are planning to travel in the next four weeks and know that the country you are travelling to requires Covid-19 vaccination status, you can call 119 and ask for a letter to be posted to you – it can take up to seven working days for this to arrive, so plan in advance.
The Government’s website warns: “The NHS appointment card from vaccination centres cannot be used to demonstrate your vaccine status.”
Do I need to fill out a declaration form to explain why I’m travelling?
No. From May 17, UK Departures will not be required to complete a Government Declaration form as it will no longer be illegal to travel for non-essential purposes.
What other documentation do I need? As per pre-pandemic, don’t forget essentials such as your passport, travel insurance details and any specific documentation that might be required in your destination.
Do I have to wear a face mask?
Yes. As per the Government’s legislation it is compulsory to wear a face covering when in ‘enclosed transport hubs’ – similar to when in the supermarket – unless exempt. You’ll also need to wear a mask when on the plane, on transfer buses or shuttles. You can expect all staff to be doing the same and there will likely be protective screens, an army of sanitisation stations and bins to dispose of any used face masks.
Will I have to have my temperature checked?
Temperature checks have been trialled at airports over the past year, and according to the Government’s website: “Depending on the airport you fly from and where you are flying to, you may need to have your temperature checked before flying.”
However, a statement from Gatwick airport, which carried out trials, assures passengers that this is not commonplace. “Following Public Health England (PHE) advice, there are currently no permanent temperature checks at Gatwick or any other UK airport. According to PHE’s medical, clinically informed, and evidence driven approach to identify those at risk, temperature checks are not a required or effective way of keeping the public safe.”
Will queues be longer?
With testing results, vaccination statuses and varying rules for every destination it is inevitable that it will take longer than before the pandemic to pass through check-in and the airport – so make sure you give yourself plenty of time and follow the guidelines for when to get to the airport, which is two hours for European flights and three hours for long-haul flights.
On return back to the UK, when proof of testing and declaration forms are required, it is inevitable that there will be queues at the border. There have been reports of queues up to six hours at Heathrow in recent weeks, with Border Force desks being left unstaffed as officers face increased pressure to check all documentation – the Government has faced criticism over this and how the Home Office had failed to use downtime during the pandemic to digitise Covid document checks. Many will be hoping the process will be made more efficient in time for the peak summer holiday months.
What can I expect on my return home?
The rules are a little more complex when you return home from your holiday, depending on whether your destination is classified as green, amber or red on the Government’s traffic light system. Here’s a snapshot of the rules:
Green countries (such as Portugal, Iceland and Gibraltar): no quarantine, but post-arrival test.
Amber countries (such as Spain, Greece and Italy): post-arrival test, then quarantine on arrival for up to 10 days (with testing on day two and eight, with an optional extra on day five).
Red countries (such as India, South Africa and Turkey): banned entirely, or compulsory hotel quarantine on return (and testing).
Some rules apply to all travellers, no matter where they’re coming from. All arrivals in Britain must have proof of a negative Covid-19 PCR test, taken no less than 72 hours before they return home and you must also fill out a passenger locator form online, via the Government’s website, before arriving in the UK. It is possible to submit the form any time in the 48 hours before you arrive, but you’ll also need to show your form when you check in to travel or board the plane.
What are the rules for domestic flights in the UK?
Many Britons will opt to take their holiday on home soil this summer, which might involve a domestic flight. Unlike international travel, if flying within the UK you do not need to take a Covid-19 test or complete a passenger locator form.
Are shops and restaurants open in the airport?
Yes. Shops and restaurants in England are now permitted to open, including to indoor dining from May 17, but social distancing measures remain in place, and many outlets are offering takeaway services and some are running reduced opening times.
Can I still drop off/pick up my friends and family off at the airport?
Yes, but you must remain outside the terminal unless you are a passenger – unless accompanying somebody who requires assistance.
Advice on Heathrow’s website states: “During this difficult time, we ask that you only enter the terminal if absolutely necessary. If you are helping someone into the terminal who requires assistance before they have been greeted by the care team, then you are exempt.”