Holidays – remember them? They are now legal in England, Wales and Scotland, although only domestic for the time being.
But with international travel to some destinations possible from 17 May, it’s rational to start dreaming of foreign trips once more.
Many hurdles stand between you and that beach, mountain or exotic city; many travellers are understandably cautious about booking a break.
From passengers’ rights to quarantine rules, flexible bookings to bagging a bargain, each week I answer reader questions via an ‘Ask Me Anything’ on The Independent, or in The Independent’s Daily Edition app.
Here are a selection of the best.
South Africa on amber list
Q: I’m interested to know when you think countries with circulating variants but low numbers, such as South Africa, might make it onto the “amber” list requiring only 10 days self-isolating at home, rather than the “red list” status with hotel quarantine?
As a dual citizen looking to return to spend some time with my partner and other family (not to holiday) I am happy to isolate at home (and have done very strictly during previous visits before ban) but can’t afford the hotel quarantine business. Can you offer any thoughts? I realise green list is a mile away due to variant and boosters etc but amber would be more than ideal for families to reunite.
Read more: Which countries are on the red list?
A: I am sorry to say the red list is easy to join but difficult to leave. The 40 countries from which hotel quarantine is required are primarily there because of fears that they could be sources of variants of concern. This is the government’s main anxiety. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic there has been very little interest in Africa from UK ministers, I am sorry to say.
Q: Tui won’t offer refunds to amber countries, only red do you expect this to change?
A: The last time I checked the conditions for Britain’s biggest holiday company, the policy appeared to me to be that any holiday which requires quarantine on return to the UK can be cancelled without penalty.
This now appears to have changed, with Tui saying “if you have a booking to any destination on the red list, which requires you to quarantine in a hotel on your return” then you will be entitled to a full refund or rebook on a different date.
The companies is evidently assuming that holidays may well going ahead anyway to “amber” countries, from which 10 days in self-isolation at home is required.
Remember, a significant number of people may be happy to self-isolate on return.
So there is now only a rebook alternative. This is perfectly legal; under the Package Travel Regulations, a tour operator like Tui is required to provide a safe holiday in line with the promised description. It can do that regardless of the problems customers encounter when they return to the UK.
So the “rebook” offer is more than Tui is obliged to do. It also applies if your “green” destination is reclassified as “green watchlist,” ie there is some danger of the location being downgraded in a week or two.
Covid restrictions in the long term
Q: For how long do you expect Covid restrictions to be in place? Any estimate when testing and vaccine passports will no longer be required?
A: Here is how I see things playing out. This summer is set to be messy, stressful and difficult for travellers within Europe, let alone further afield. Forget any reports you have heard about European unity – it will be every country for itself as they strive to rescue their ailing tourist industries while minimising risk to the population.
By the end of the summer though, I expect we will be in a fairly stable equilibrium with the main impediments to travel simply being online forms that verify your Covid status. Unfortunately autumn is when some senior medical figures are predicting an upsurge in coronavirus cases as life moves from outdoors to indoors, so stresses could continue as we get into the city-break season.
But I am optimistic that for the first time since 2019 we could have a decent European ski season this winter. Looking further afield, Asia and Australasia are likely to be very circumspect about opening up to Europeans any time soon. In particular Australia and New Zealand have to decide how to control entry to minimise the damage to their relatively pristine nations.
My short answer: 2023, but in most parts of the world, better by the end of 2022.
Benidorm in May
Q: Hi Simon, I’m booked with Tui to go to Benidorm on 25 May. Do you think this will still go ahead? If so and it’s on the amber list would I be forced to go or could I cancel for a full refund as opposed to changing the holiday?
A: I fear Benidorm will not be on the initial green list – though I hope I am wrong. Fortunately because you have booked a proper package holiday, the operator will not oblige you to go ahead with it. I imagine you will be offered a full refund within two weeks.
Gibraltar entry requirements
Q: Gibraltar is an obvious one for the green list from 17 May. What entry requirements do you think there will be?
A: I was in Gibraltar in December, and all that was required was the completion of an online passenger locator form. Since the vast majority of arrivals by air are from the UK, which has very good Covid numbers now, I imagine that it may continue in that form. But of course governments can introduce whatever requirements they think are necessary to protect their people.
Vaccinated American travel
Q: Is there any chance fully vaccinated Americans get better treatment than amber come 17 May?
A: The UK has no interest in any incoming traveller’s vaccination status – whether they are arriving from a red, amber or green country, and whether they are British people returning home or overseas visitors arriving.
Green list and testing
Q: When do you think we will be able to travel back from green countries without a test? Will it be possible by late summer?
It is currently too stressful trying to get a test while on holiday and abroad, and there is the fear you will test positive and be stranded.
A: I estimate that by July – not sure which part – the testing requirements from green countries will be drastically eased.
June half term plans
Q: So June half term is from 28 May to 13 June. Will we be able to travel anywhere? Sun preferred? Yes or mo: Greece? USA? Canaries? Balearics? Mexico? Thank you for keeping me sane at this trying time.
Green list announcement
Q: Do you know when green list announcement will be made? I have until 8 May to move my holiday to Antigua. Otherwise I can’t get money back if it’s amber, and I won’t be able to go unless it’s on the green list!
A: I honestly can’t see how the government can seriously consider leaving the decision on red/amber/green categories for countries (and possibly islands) any later than Friday 7 May, just 10 days before the planned resumption of international travel, so your timing looks pretty shrewd. Or lucky.
Children testing requirements
Q: Do you think by start of July fully vaccinated travellers will be able to travel to amber countries without need to isolate? And any update on how children under age of 16 may be factored in for tests?
A: Just to make clear: we are talking here about the rules for returning to the UK. At present having had both jabs gives you all kinds of benefits in various countries around the world, in terms of ease of access, but the UK is not among them.
There have been reports, or at least rumours, that the government is considering making life easier for people lucky enough to have been vaccinated by removing the need to self-isolate on return from amber countries.
However, that would be a divisive policy – and also lead to an odd situation where kids have to quarantine but their parents do not.
Testing for children is a really tricky subject. Covid swab tests are extremely intrusive and unpleasant. Individual countries are coming up with their own age limit, below which children need not be tested. I think it is a problem that will begin to dissipate as rates for across Europe and governments become less onerous in their restrictions. But right now all you can do is look at each nation’s requirements. There is no consistency.
Covid test failure
Q: With all the fuss about outward and homeward testing and its cost for a typical family, I haven’t seen any comment about the consequences if the traveller fails a test.
A pre-departure failure would presumably mean that you can’t travel, and will have to self-isolate at home along with your family. A pre-return test failure would presumably strand the family abroad for a period of self-isolation at least.
Would travel insurance cover any of the costs of this (lost holiday or enforced stay abroad)? And how does a Covid positive family find accommodation abroad - as they won’t have any booked past their expected return date?
Can you cast any light?
A: Undoubtedly some people will test positive for coronavirus while in their destination waiting to come back to the UK. This is actually been happening throughout the pandemic. The appropriate solution is rather dependent on the location. Some countries will provide self-isolation facilities free, others will charge. Some travel operators may assist. Some travel insurance policies cover this, so if it’s a particular concern then do shop around.
Q: Do you think we will ever return to the horrors of two weeks in Benidorm?
A: I love Benidorm and I can’t wait to get back.
Q: Suppose someone traveling from amber/red spends five days in a green country. Are they permitted to then go on to the UK with a PCR negative result in hand and essentially back-door test-to-release? Or do they need to spend 10 full days in the green country before being allowed to enter the UK on that basis?
A: My understanding is that if you have been in an amber or a red country any time within the past 10 days that triggers quarantine. I know of a number of people who have quite legally laundered their red list status by going to a country such as Egypt or Turkey on their way back from a “high-risk” nation. They have all stayed the required 10 days to absolve their red-listness.
Q: Just in case the government allows us a holiday, can you give me some suggestions, including unusual ones, for my bucket list please.
A: I think the nearest part of the world often overlooked by British travellers is probably eastern Europe.
The countries that are behind what we used to know as the Iron Curtain are full of interest and beauty, and a trip through Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania (for example) is almost certain to be very cheerful as well as very cheap.
Q: The media seem happy to promote the modification of the NHS app as the government’s proposed way of allowing foreign travel despite the very obvious point that it only works in England. Previously Westminster said it was working with the home nations to find a joint solution. Have they abandoned that idea?
A: I’m not sure that this part of the media is promoting the modification of the NHS app – as mentioned earlier, there are many issues standing in the way of it becoming a UK-wide method of providing evidence of Covid status, either jabbed, tested or recovered.
I imagine there are many discussions going on between London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast about how to get it to work, but even as an England-only solution I really don’t expect to be seeing it in the next 20 days.
Green list country?
Q: Flying from Manchester, what country would you gamble on getting on the green list that allows Brits in from 17 May for some warm sunshine? Desperate to get to a Canary Island or Greek Island in May.
A: The only European countries I believe are definite for green list status are Gibraltar and Iceland, with Malta and Portugal looking plausible. It’s possible that the Canaries may sneak onto the list, but I would be waiting poised to book a trip at the instant the green list is announced rather than booking in advance.
Q: Menorca flights carried over from last year for 25 June 2021. Will they, won’t they? Jet2 is currently selling them a third less than we paid last year. So either they think they won’t, or no one is booking and they are trying to prompt interest.
A: I think the Balearics in late June look a pretty decent bet, so I would start cautiously looking forward to a trip to that wonderful island.
Airfares this summer are all over the place. In general I expect prices to rise, particularly once we know what the green list destinations are, but for now they are changing by the day as airlines seek to fill all the seats – and at the same time maximise their revenue after the most disastrously bad 13 months.
Q Will European countries reciprocate what the UK does?
A: No, every nation will do exactly what it thinks is best to protect its population and at the same time its economy.
Q: Hi Simon, will the government be adopting the islands approach? If so, thoughts on Rhodes for 11 June?
A: The government certainly says that the “islands policy” that it unveiled late last summer will be in use this summer. The reasonable assumption is that different parts of the same country well will have drastically different infection rates, and that in the case of islands with low Covid scores it is appropriate to give them a less onerous rating.
Greece has had some tough spikes in coronavirus, and I am not convinced any islands will be in the first sweep of low-risk nations. Later in the summer, certainly – but I fear not before 11 June. I hope I am wrong.
France travel rules
Q: What are the chances that only a negative test will be required and no quarantine will be necessary when travelling into France by car in late summer? Or do you think its double jabs all the way regardless of modes of transport? Thanks.
A: When international travel restarts on 17 May, it will involve an enormous amount of faff.
You will need to get all your ducks in a row, in the shape of online forms, permissions, test certificates, etc. Many countries will still require some combination of tests and quarantine, though these may be avoided by those lucky to have had both jabs.
By late summer, I predict the landscape will have changed dramatically – and that it may simply become a question of filling in the right online form, and possibly taking the odd lateral flow test, both to enter other European countries and on return to the UK.
Q: With the NHS app going to be used as an “Covid passport” how do you think this will help or hinder the progress through UK and European airports, do you think this app is going to be a one stop for all our information reg jabs, tests & information the airlines on both sides need “will it even work”?
A: In the fullness of time I daresay an NHS app will prove to be a really useful travelling tool, with details of jabs and tests. But I honestly cannot see how the app will initially do more than simply show the vaccination status of people in England who have signed up for the app. It certainly does not appear to be a particularly secure way to demonstrate Covid immunisation. While the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, has said it will be the basis for officially certification, the IT challenges – not least the technical knitting with systems in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, look boggling and the work of many months, not 20 days.
Q: Looking unlikely that we’ll be able to travel to Turkey anytime soon, but what are your thoughts on late August being possible for there?
A: Turkey has proved a very tricky destination for much of the past year. Of course it is a wonderfully welcoming, cultured, beautiful and friendly country, but the UK government’s main concern is the reliability of the coronavirus data issued by the Turkish health authorities. So Turkey will certainly not be among the first green list countries; I expect to be given Amber status. Now lots of Amber countries are going to be moved to the green list within, I predict weeks, but Turkey may not be among them. At the moment I’d say 50-50 for late August.
Q: What are the chances of us being able to fly to Disneyworld Florida this August if we are fully vaccinated with two kids? Our trip was moved from April 2020.
A: I think there is a high chance that people will be able to return to the US from the second half of 2021. There will be a recognition that the U.K.’s infection rates make us a pretty good bet for admission, and the UK will certainly want to put the US on the green list as soon as possible. Your vaccination status may ease your progress in reducing the number of tests required, but I don’t think the fact that your kids haven’t been vaccinated will be a deal breaker for the US or for the vast majority of other holiday destinations.
Q: If travel re-opens this year are airports going to be ready for checking the variety of vaccination certificates/passports, Covid test results, quarantining, etc, and how will they deal with the inevitable long queues and congested terminals this will lead to?
A: Very timely question, given that Heathrow’s chief executive has once again warned about the extremely long waits that some passengers are experiencing – even though the airport is handling only 10 per cent of normal numbers.
My guess is that once international travel resumes, probably on 17 May, we will find that the current very close inspection of documentation eases off – especially for arrivals from holiday destinations. But I also have to give you the government’s view which is that it will take as long as it takes and passengers will need to put up with it.