Can I go on holiday to Portugal after 17 May?

·3-min read
Get set? Holidaymakers at Faro airport in Portugal in the summer of 2020 (Simon Calder)
Get set? Holidaymakers at Faro airport in Portugal in the summer of 2020 (Simon Calder)

Thousands of people booked to travel to Portugal later this month are waiting to hear if they will be allowed to travel. With only three days remaining before the first holiday flights are due to leave the UK for the Algarve coast, there is no certainty about whether holidaymakers will be allowed in.

What is the background.

From 17 May, international leisure travel from the UK will be allowed to resume after 19 weeks. But the vast majority of destinations abroad come with significant strings attached – including the need to quarantine on return to the UK.

The government has created a “green list” of just 12 destinations from which self-isolation isn’t required when you come home. They include Australia, New Zealand and a number of other destinations that won’t admit us, plus Iceland, Israel, Gibraltar and Portugal. But now there are concerns that British holidaymakers might not be allowed into Portugal. At present the current rules are continuing, which allow only residents and travellers on essential journeys to enter the mainland.

Over the weekend, prospective visitors need to get testing organised – while airlines and holiday companies must decide what they are planning to do.

The islands of Madeira and Porto Santo are unaffected. The first visitors are expected to touch down in Madeira at 10am on Monday.

What are the travel companies saying?

They are mystified by why things are as they are. Tui, Britain’s biggest holiday company, told me: “We’re monitoring the situation closely and will provide a further update as soon as we have clarification from the Portuguese government.

“We would like to reassure customers that we will contact them directly if their flight or holiday is impacted to discuss their options, this includes offering a full refund or the chance to change the holiday for free.”

How unexpected is this?

Very. It’s a week since the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, announced the green list – and the tourist bosses of Portugal as well as Iceland, Gibraltar and Israel all said how marvellous it was. Airlines and holiday companies have added hundreds of departures to Portugal, with many families booking half-term holidays.

Travellers expected fairly swift news on what was required of holidaymakers, but there is still no clarity.

What is your prediction?

Bear in mind that I have consistently been over-optimistic about the ability to travel throughout the coronavirus pandemic. But I remain 90 per cent convinced that Portugal will take advantage of its monopoly status – capitalising on the unprecedented opportunity of being the only significant summer sun destination on the UK green list.

Which begs the question: what sort of documentation will they demand, and I predict a “jab or test?” formula: if you’ve not been vaccinated, then you have to provide proof of a negative Covid test.

And if it all goes wrong?

Package holidaymakers are best protected, because tour operators cannot send travellers to destinations that will not let them in.

A Tui spokesperson said: “We would like to reassure customers that we will contact them directly if their flight or holiday is impacted to discuss their options, this includes offering a full refund or the chance to change the holiday for free.”

Airlines such as British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair will refund air fares only if their flights are cancelled; otherwise passengers can switch to other aircraft.

Travel correspondent Simon Calder gives his thoughts on the latest news from the travel industry and what it means for you in a new daily podcast. Find out more here.

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