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Tackling 2021 travel restrictions - tales from two travellers

kayley_maxwell

14 June 2021

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As we look forward to the lifting of travel restrictions around the world, there’s no denying the fact that international travel has changed. As travellers, most of us have become accustomed to stringent security checks, putting all our liquids in tiny bottles and switching on the laptop while keeping our fingers crossed that the battery still has life in it.

But the pandemic has changed travel beyond all recognition, so as we get used to a new era of rules and regulations, what’s in store for this year’s holidaymakers? We decided to ask two recent travellers about their own experiences. Note that those interviewed were travelling for permitted reasons and adhering strictly to all guidelines at the time of their travel. Read on to find out more about travelling 2021.

Francesca (travelling between Italy and the UK)

Can you give us a bit of background about your trip?

My husband and I had to travel from Italy to the UK for work purposes during May 2021, while travel restrictions for tourism were in force in both countries. We live in Italy and also have a home in the UK. To prepare for our trip, we followed government travel advice and paid £700 in total for all the Covid tests for two people for a return trip, as well as arranging to quarantine on arrival in the UK.

What was your quarantine in the UK like?

During the quarantine period at our home, the authorities called every day to ensure that we hadn’t left the house. We had to complete the test on day 2, and we opted to do the “test to release for international travel” on day 5. Despite a negative result, we also had to complete the day 8 test. It was OK because I could still work remotely. 

 

As a frequent traveller, what has changed for you?

Things are definitely not the same, and we have to accept these changes. Fiumicino airport in Rome was empty, and we had our temperature scanned at every step to comply with the new processes: at check-in, passport control and before boarding. Documents were thoroughly checked, of course. The BA lounge was closed due to the few passengers passing through. There is also no priority boarding and no priority lines at passport control any more. 

We’re certainly looking forward to a time when the travel restrictions are removed and we can travel to our beloved Singapore again each year. In the meantime, we just all have to plan our trips carefully.

Kayley (travelling between Malta and the UK) 

How did you prepare for your trip?

I’m resident in Malta, but I had to travel back to the UK for work purposes during April/May 2021. Following the latest travel advice, I had to get a PCR test done in Malta within 72 hours of boarding the flight (and because it can take up to 72 hours for your results to come back, so you have to plan the date and time of your test carefully). I then had to pre-book the day 2 and day 8 tests at the cost of around £100 each– even though I was going to be quarantining for 10 days anyway.

To book the day 2 and day 8 tests, you can go to the government website, where you’ll find a list of companies offering these tests. You need to use your order number to fill in your passenger locator form, or the system won’t let you complete it. As my flight was within 48 hours of finding out how to book the tests, I had only 48 hours to get confirmation from the testing company; otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to fly. The problem is that your order number isn’t given to you right away – they have to review your application for a test first. So, it’s important to be really well prepared for your trip.

So, once I had my order number, I filled out the passenger locator form online, received my negative COVID test result that was taken in Malta and was finally good to fly. 

 

Can you tell us about your experience at the airport and during the flight?

The airport in Malta was empty as you can see from my photos. Duty-free was like a ghost town, and the shelves were empty. On the plus side, two out of every three seats in the departure lounge were sealed off so you weren’t sitting close to anyone, which helped with social distancing.  

We had to wear a mask from the minute we walked into the airport to the minute we left the airport on the other side. The flight wasn’t even nearly full, and I found myself with empty seats on each side of me, so it was nice to stretch out and catch up on some sleep! 

On the plane, if you wanted to order food and drink from the menu, you had to alert a member of staff, and they would bring it to you, as they were not allowed to come down the plane with the trolley. 

Overall, the flight was OK, and having fewer people was actually quite nice. I wouldn’t be too sorry if planes kept to this capacity moving forward! 

What was your experience on landing in the UK?

Landing in Heathrow reminded me of landing in the US, with queues forming as paperwork was checked. Luckily, I only had to wait an hour in the queue because I had the necessary forms and had my tests booked. Others who didn’t were taken aside, and I’ve no idea how long they had to wait. Again, preparation is everything when you travel. Once through those checks, I was able to go straight through to the passport scanning machines before grabbing my luggage and heading out.

 

What was the quarantine process like for you?

The day 2 and day 8 tests arrived at my location in the UK on time, and it took about 48-72 hours for each result to come back. Even though I paid for the tests and had a PCR in Malta, I still had to quarantine in the UK for 10 days. I received a call on day 2 asking if I was quarantining. This was repeated the following day. 

I knew that I could take a test on day 5 to be let out earlier (the “test to release” for international travel). The problem is that the test result can take 48-72 hours, which could mean not getting the result until day 7 or 8, so you’re paying £100 to be let out of quarantine 2 days earlier. Don’t fall into this trap: make sure you choose a testing provider that can guarantee results within a certain time period. 

Once this was done, I received my results within 48 hours, so by the morning of day 7 I was out of quarantine. I certainly don’t regret taking the day 5 test, as it meant I could see friends and family as well as have those all-important business meetings. I think you just need to accept that if you do travel to a country where you need to quarantine, you have to plan in advance and budget for it. That’s travelling 2021 for you!

Tell us about your return to Malta from the UK.

Leaving the UK was relatively easy; again, I checked the travel advice carefully and realised I just needed a PCR test within 72 hours. 

Once I got to Heathrow, everything was really quick as there was literally nobody there. There were hardly any queues, and everything was sealed off. For me, it was a fantastic travel experience considering all the travel restrictions still in place. I got from the entrance of the airport to my gate in a matter of 20 minutes – and only because I stopped off to buy a sandwich on the way! 

Of course, masks were required the whole time, and I saw staff cleaning seats and other areas with sanitisation sprays. Staff members were on hand if we needed help with anything – overall, I was really impressed!

Once again, the flight was empty, and I had a whole row to myself. Everyone on the plane and in the airport was so nice and friendly, something I haven’t seen in a long time. 

Once the plane took off, there was a sense of relief that I had managed it. I had done everything that I needed to do to keep safe, followed all the travel advice, and enjoyed my trip back. I will never take travelling for granted ever again! 

Once I landed in Malta, they checked my PCR test and residency to make sure I had a valid reason to enter the country and then I was good to go. That was it, fortunately no quarantine this time!  

Kayley’s top tips for travelling 2021

  • When booking the day 2 and day 8 tests, make sure you leave enough time to receive the confirmation number so you can fill in your passenger locator form before travelling.
  • Make sure you have all the necessary documents before you land at Heathrow. You can find all the latest travel advice and information on the gov.uk website.
  • Invest in a good mask that you can breathe through properly. If you have glasses, get the masks with the wire part above the nose to prevent your glasses from steaming up. When you travel, you need to wear these for a long period of time, so it’s important to be as comfortable as possible. 
  • Take a spray sanitiser. This helped me feel comfortable as I could spray everything before I touched it – my coffee cup, my passport after they handled it, even my table on the flight. It’s just for your own peace of mind. 
  • For your day 5 test, make sure you choose a test provider that will deliver your test results to you as quickly as possible. 
  • Despite all the travel restrictions, don’t forget to enjoy your trip!