Travel expert Simon Calder answers 17 questions amid latest rule changes

When might the US open to British visitors?

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 13 October 2021 08:55
comments

The travel correspondent of The Independent likes to travel each October in the fabled Silk Road city of Khiva in the far west of Uzbekistan – where the traditional sundowner is kumis (fermented mare’s milk).

The Central Asian nation was taken off the Foreign Office “no go” list at 3pm on Friday 8 October, which gave him just enough time to spend an hour answering your travel questions.

America opens up – but when?

Q: Any rumours of exactly when the US will open up in November? Do you know when an announcement is likely?

Dave 612

A: In recent weeks three Western governments have announced radical changes to Covid travel policies with no specific dates attached. The UK’s plan to replace “day two” PCR tests with lateral flow is going to happen, we understand, sometime this month; speaking on the BBC on Friday, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “Hopefully in time for people returning from half-term holidays potentially, and certainly by the end of October.” Yet with just three weeks remaining, there is no certainty – which is maddening for families hoping to plan a half-term escape.

Ten days ago, the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, said his country will relax its strict border controls for citizens and residents at some time in November – again, without a specific date.

And it is now three weeks since the White House promised that arrivals from Europe (including the US) will be permitted from “early November”.

Initially leaks seemed to suggest the plan was to open up on 1 November, Yet were the 20-month ban to be lifted at the start of next month, airlines would need to be ramping up flights now in order to handle (and exploit) the surge in travel demand that will accompany the opening. They want several weeks’ notice, as of course do prospective travellers.

Recent briefings (to which I have no direct access) indicate that the White House announcement was rushed out to placate European leaders before the necessary procedures had been finalise. There is now a question of whether it will be sorted by the Thanksgiving weekend, which this year is 25-28 November.

All I can safely predict is that when we finally know, the first few days of transatlantic flights will fill up very swiftly. If you have flexibility, you might want to wait a week or longer to allow the surge in demand to subside. But once we get close to Christmas, air fares will soar once again.

Jab journeys

Q: Is there any news on when Portugal will accept UK vaccine passport in lieu of a pre-departure Covid test?

Rog 123

A: This weekend the requirement has finally been dropped after 19 weeks. The Foreign Office advice has been updated with the change to say no test is required for travellers from the UK to Portugal “if you have an NHS Covid Pass … or an EU digital Covid vaccination certificate showing you have been fully vaccinated with an EU-approved Covid-19 vaccine at least 14 days before you travel”.

The move was expected as southern European nations compete more fiercely for autumn and winter arrivals from the UK.

Jet2 warns passengers that proper NHS certification – either online or on paper – is required. “Please note, your business card-sized paper Covid-19 vaccination record card isn’t an acceptable form of vaccine status proof and can’t be used to enter,” the firm warns.

Unvaccinated adults and children aged 12 or over must continue to take a lateral flow test in the 48 hours before they are due to arrive in mainland Portugal.

Q: I want to know if colleagues abroad can travel to England for a conference in late November, without needing to quarantine if they are double vaccinated? Countries they are coming from are India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ghana, USA and possibly Colombia.

Donna 23

A: The UK still refuses to recognise vaccines from most of the world’s countries, but I am glad to say that from Monday 11 October the places you mention will all be on the list. The arrivals from Colombia will, if the red list continues in its present form, be required to go into hotel quarantine at a cost of £2,285 for 11 nights. But I will be very surprised if the list survives that long.

Q: Is the UK likely to start accepting other vaccinations from travellers - such as Sinovac from Brazil.

Rob90

A: In due course the UK’s crazy policy of rejecting even approved vaccines if they were administered in the “wrong” location will be corrected, and at that time Sinovac and other vaccinations may be approved. But don’t hold your breath.

Q: My sister flew in from the States on Thursday and flies out on Monday, lovely birthday reunion weekend ! Can her pre-booked day two PCR test on Saturday also count as her US pre-departure to fly test?

Jules NW5

A: Thanks to the generous timing allowed by the US – with a test permitted on any of the three days before travel – that should work, so long as the certificate for the day two PCR test contains sufficient information to meet the American requirements.

Transit travel

Q:  Here’s a question which I have not been able to answer from any source. You are my last hope. I am coming from a non-red list country and my vaccine status is not currently recognised by the UK. I’m arriving from abroad to the UK and leaving on the same day, but with a change of airports from Newcastle to Edinburgh. In other words, I am making a “landside” transit, but crossing the Anglo-Scottish border.

The question is: will I need to book day two and day eight tests?

Yan U

A: As someone whose vaccinations are not recognised by the UK, you will need to take a test (lateral flow will do) before travelling to England. But after working through the process my interpretation is that you need not book any Covid tests. You would need to do so only if you intended to stay.

The transit rules for changing planes (or international train or ferries) wholly within England are clear. When you transit in England between international locations, you need not quarantine on arrival or take a Covid-19 test on or before day two and day eight if you “travel directly from your port of entry to another port of departure in England”.

However Britain’s passenger locator form does not allow for this possibility, instead having a box to tick called “Change flights in the UK within 24 hours, without going through UK border control”. I recommend you tick this box because the alternative would be “I plan to stay in the UK” and you then need to book tests.

I have worked through the entire passenger locator form process for you, making a dummy application, and there was no problem raised when entering Newcastle and departing from Edinburgh. As you say it is all on the same day, I can see no problem.

I have studied the applicable legislation and can see no reference to Anglo-Scottish transit in any of the legislation. You will be travelling through Scotland solely to board an international departure. You must, though travel direct from Newcastle airport to Edinburgh airport – sightseeing in either city is out.

Q: I am flying from Cape Town and land in Dublin on 20 October - though my final destination is Northern Ireland. When I land in Dublin do they let me pass through and continue my trip to Northern Ireland or do I have to self isolate before going to NI? I am fully vaxxed.

Scott In SA

A: As far as I can see quarantine is no longer required on arrival from South Africa to Dublin. Last year I made a couple of “transit” visits via Dublin to Northern Ireland, and on each occasion it was a straightforward matter of filling in a form and declaring my plans to the border officials.

Red list

Q: Shame about the Dominican Republic staying on the red list. I don’t see any logic in bringing Mexico off red list whilst the positivity rate is still I believe 40 per cent and the Dom Rep is around seven per cent. Should we hope for a turnaround in three weeks or is this it for the rest of the year do you think?

Amst 101

A: Many people are upset that the Dominican Republic remains on the red list. Based on the data I had seen, I was pretty confident it would be removed. I will be surprised if the red list survives very long. The next review is due on 28 October, taking effect (presumably) on 1 November. I have almost no doubt the hotel quarantine for arrivals from the Dominican Republic.

Q: Why the differences between Foreign Office advice against travel and the “red list”?

Snoozing Badger

A: There are many discrepancies between FCDO advice against visiting a country based specifically on Covid-19 concerns and the Department for Transport (DfT) assessment of the coronavirus risks.

According to the most recent Foreign Office announcements, those differences are being ironed out.

Of course there are many risks beyond coronavirus in those nations, and the Foreign Office is concerned about the overall level of danger.

Road accidents constitute the biggest risk.

Testing times

Q: I live in Wales. I have two children, aged 14 and 13. Both have had a single dose of Pfizer vaccine, which is the full recommended course for children their age. However, they are not able to receive a vaccine certificate from NHS Wales as they have not had two doses; nor does the NHS App allow you to get a QR code as they are under 16.

So despite being vaccinated, they cannot “prove” their status - and hence have to have a PCR test before entering Spain. Any way around this that you have found?

Chris

A: I agree it’s a pain. They can take a Lamp test as an alternative to a PCR ahead of entering Spain, which should be swifter if not cheaper.

About easyJet …

Travel question of the day for Wednesday 13 October

Q: Really stupid question, but next week I am flying with easyJet to Berlin. I haven’t flown for ages and am unsure about the airport procedures. I have checked in online and printed off my boarding pass. I will be travelling with hand baggage only. I don’t know whether I have to stop at check-in on my way through to get my documents checked to ensure I’ve properly completed the German passenger locator form?

When I get to the airport can I just go straight through security to departures, or do I need to go to the check-in desk first?

“Ursa Minor,” via the latest Ask Me Anything at independent.co.uk/travel

A: A really good question, and the answer is: it all depends. Anyone checking bags in with the help of a human agent (as opposed to self-service bag drop) is likely to have their paperwork thoroughly examined at that point.

But with cabin baggage only you can still happily go straight through security to departures – just expect to be checked there. To the best of my knowledge, the giant budget airlines, easyJet and Ryanair, are content to check passengers’ documents at the departure gate.

To minimise stress for everyone, though, it’s good to offer to present the documents quite a lot earlier while you are landside if you can find a person to engage with. You usually get a sticker or a slip of paper to show you have passed the necessary checks for your destination. There is generally less time pressure than at the gate, and if a discrepancy is identified well in advance there will be scope to do something about it.

You will also have more opportunity – if it is needed – to argue your corner if the airline is finding a fault that you don’t think exists. The converse is that you’re at the gate, the flight is going in five minutes and the ground staff won’t let you board …

Q: When are easyJet introducing their cabin baggage add-on product? I read in their latest financial results that they will shortly allow passengers to buy the ability to take a trolley case on board as cabin baggage irrespective of the fare paid or any other bundled product.

Bilh

A: As with all budget airlines, easyJet is seeking to extract some revenue from the privilege of bringing a decent-sized bag on board a plane. (Some of us remember the wonderful days when you were allowed two pieces of hand luggage, including a really chunky case, at no extra cost; Jet2 still offers this courtesy).

I agree the current easyJet policy looks a bit daft. You can bring a larger bag only if “you have booked an upfront or extra legroom seat”. I am sure it will be offered as a standalone add-on soon.

EU passport rules for British visitors

Q: Can you clarify the EU passport rules please? We are off to Tenerife for half term and son has until 18 February 2022 left on his passport. I did the gov.uk passport check which said it needs to be renewed after 18 August 2021.

I thought that you just needed three months left beyond your return, i.e. if we returned before 18 November then that would be fine?

Lenny G

A: As I have told the Home Office – which runs the passport checker – many times, it is wrongly programmed and delivers many false results.

You don’t say how old your son is, but if he has a child’s passport (valid five years or so) then your assessment of returning before 18 November is exactly right. If he has an adult passport issued for 10 years or more, it is trickier.

Q: I have booked flights to the Algarve from 26 October until 19 December – a total of 54 nights. I can’t get my head round the 90/180 day rule. When would I be able to return in the New Year for a period longer than the 36 days that I will have remaining?

Stephen

A: How lovely to be in the Algarve for the first half of winter. You will able to stay for a maximum five weeks (35 days) additionally to 26 April. At that point you can go back in because your original 55 (days, not nights is what counts) will start to be erased.

This is one of the many changes that Brexit has brought to travel. I am very keen to hear of any benefits beyond duty-free.

Travel with children

Q: Just wondering whether there is likely to be any relaxation of travel restrictions for children in EU countries anytime soon? Germany and the Netherlands (and others I think) have still got quarantine rules in place for unvaccinated children rather than allowing them entry with a negative PCR test.

Do you think this may change soon? We’ve written off a half-term trip to Germany as our 10-year-old would have to quarantine for five days. So we are wondering when to change it to?

Dan 75

A: The inconsistency of admission policies for children at nations across Europe is causing a wide range of concerns for families. I am afraid that, with very high rates of infection in the UK, there is little prospect of a change in the short term.

Spain and Portugal, though are among some of the countries happy to admit British families if the children have been tested.

Q: I have a daughter aged 14. She is due her first vaccination shortly. We have a cruise booked, but the cruise line says people aged 12 and above need to be double vaccinated. Do you think the UK government will give her a second dose or will the cruise line let her travel due to her being unable to get a second dose?

James 75

A: The cruise industry is being extremely hard line in terms of testing requirements. I am afraid it is unlikely that your daughter will be allowed on board without a second jab.

It will be interesting to see how, in future, cruise lines will seek once again to attract families on board.

Indian winter

Q: We are planning to travel to Goa in December. It’s not clear what vaccination proof we need to enter India. Are the Indian authorities imposing quarantine on UK travellers?

Devans 66

A: An ambitious plan, if I might say so. Because the UK has such exceptionally high rates of Covid, many countries impose mandatory quarantine. For India, it is “at home or at the destination address for 10 days after arrival”.

You also need a negative PCR test result taken no more than 72 hours “prior to undertaking the journey”.

“Each passenger shall also submit a declaration with respect to the authenticity of the report,” advises the Foreign Office.

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