How to navigate this weekend’s holiday rush

·7-min read
Airport concourse - Getty
Airport concourse - Getty

School’s out, and many families around the country will be packing their bags for what could be their first holiday abroad in many moons. This is also the first weekend that fully vaccinated British travellers have been exempt from quarantining when returning home from amber-list countries, meaning it’s likely to be a busy few days at Britain’s airports.

Unfortunately, travelling abroad is no longer just about remembering your passport and a plastic bag for your toiletries. These days there is a web of admin to sort out, including (but not limited to) test results and passenger locator forms.

In the stress of organising all your documents, it’s important not to forget simple details that could derail a trip, such as arriving early to the airport and bringing a face mask. Here’s your survival guide for navigating this weekend.

Arrive at the airport early

Pre-pandemic there were two types of people: those who arrived at the airport at least three hours before a flight and sat in a charmless café anxiously waiting for their gate number to be announced, and those who waltzed through with 45 minutes to spare. In this new world, everyone should be in the former camp.

This weekend airports will be busier than they have been all year. Nearly 400,000 Britons are set to fly out in the next two days, making a total of 1.5 million for the week. This is 50 per cent up on last year’s one million who flew out in the same week.

Tour operators and airlines have also reported 100 per cent-plus increases in sales with many last-minute bookings as holidaymakers targeted the Spanish and Greek islands for the start of the school holidays.

However, while airports will be processing more passengers than they have done since the ‘before times’, they will be doing so during an escalating ‘pingdemic’. Earlier this month, there were reports of "chaotic" queues of up to two and a half hours at Heathrow Airport after security staff were forced to self-isolate, delaying 15 flights. A staggering 600,000 people were pinged last week and it’s possible this could have an effect on airport staffing levels this weekend.

Opting to check-in online should speed things up, as would only taking hand luggage.

Bring a face mask

While the Government’s face mask mandate ended on July 19, they are still required at UK airports and on flights. Those without a medical exemption who fail to comply could be denied boarding. Face coverings must be donned as soon as you enter the airport.

In a joint statement last week, Iata, Airlines UK, the Airport operators Association and UK Board of Airline Representatives, said:

“Face masks will remain an essential element and will be required for both international and domestic flights. This is in line with regulation and guidance in place across the UK and internationally.

“In Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales face masks continue to be mandated by the devolved governments. In England, UK Government guidance states the ‘government expects and recommends that people wear face coverings in crowded areas, such as public transport’.

“Globally, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) recommends the use of masks for air travel.This reflects the fact that airports and aircraft are areas where social distancing is not always possible.”

Heathrow Express has also announced that face coverings must still be worn on its services.

Some social distancing measures are also still in place in UK airports. You could be asked to follow markings and may be asked to increase the space between you and other passengers, particularly when boarding.

Father and son wearing masks at airport - Getty
Father and son wearing masks at airport - Getty

Make sure your documents are in order

If you are heading abroad this weekend, you should now have your negative PCR test result, (if required). If your result has failed to come through, there are a few last-chance in-person options with turnaround times of two to six hours. Of course these don’t come cheap – you can expect to pay £495 at London’s Fleet Street Clinic, for example.

Some destinations will require you to upload proof of your negative Covid result to a portal (such as in Madeira). Others will require you to simply print out your results – either way, it’s worth printing a couple of copies of your negative result form, just in case.

At least a day before, check there are no other documents you need to fill in, on the FCDO ‘Entry Requirements’ page for your destination. For Greece, for example, you must fill in a Passenger Locator Form no later than 24 hours before you travel.

If your destination accepts vaccine certificates, double check the NHS App is showing your full vaccination status. You might need to show this on arrival.

Sensible travellers will print everything off, just in case your phone battery runs out, you lose service or technology lets you down another way. Whatever you do, make sure the forms are in your hand luggage, not your checked luggage.

What happens if you get ‘pinged’ on the way to the airport?

It’s a fear looming large over holidaymakers this summer: what if I get instructed to self-isolate just before my trip? And what happens if passengers get notified on the way to (or at) the airport?

From a legal standpoint, it depends entirely on the method by which you are contacted. If you are told via an email, text or phone call from the Test and Trace service, then isolating is a legal requirement – so yes, you must immediately return home for as long as you are instructed.

However, if you are ‘pinged’ by the NHS COVID-19 app, via a notification on your phone, there is no legal imperative to isolate. Downloading the app is voluntary, and any instruction from it is ‘guidance’ – and not enforceable by law. There have been numerous reports of holidaymakers deleting the app due to fears of a ping jeopardising their trip.

Make sure you’ve secured sufficient travel insurance

Travel insurance in pandemic times is anything but simple, namely because the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office still advises against travel to some amber list countries, meaning many companies won’t provide cover.

Fortunately, FCDO advice against travel doesn’t apply to several key holiday destinations, now including all of Spain, Greece and Portugal. If you are booked to travel to any of these, then your insurance should still be valid as normal. But it’s vital to check the latest government advice just before you travel.

A handful of insurers do now offer cover for many countries even when the FCDO advises against all but essential travel. These include Staysure, Campbell Irvine and Battleface. Our detailed guide is here.

What do I need to do on arrival at my holiday destination?

Congratulations: after all the administrative hurdles, you’ve made it to your destination. However, there may be one last barrier to overcome before you reach the beach.

As well as (or instead of) showing your negative PCR test result, some destinations might require you to take a test on arrival. For most destinations, this will require no prior organisation and you will be given a test on arrival, though it’s worth double checking on the relevant FCDO page to make sure.

Some countries will also require, or encourage, you to sign up to a tracking app. In Iceland, for example, you will be asked to sign up to the Raknig C-19 app on arrival. Make sure your phone is fully charged, and has sufficient battery on arrival in your destination in case anything like this is required. Other destinations might ask you to fill in a passenger questionnaire on arrival, detailing your accommodation and return flight information.

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