<p>Strings attached: Simon Calder in a hammock emporium in Masaya, Nicaragua</p>

Strings attached: Simon Calder in a hammock emporium in Masaya, Nicaragua

Travel expert Simon Calder answers 15 pressing questions on your trips abroad

American red tape, Australian dreams, Brexit passport checks, flight cancellations and cheap fuel in Luxembourg

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 03 November 2021 12:32
Comments

With news of the red list being effectively scrapped from 1 November, the travel correspondent of The Independent is making arrangements to fulfil some obligations involving his hammock import/export franchise in Central America. But he paused long enough to take readers’ travel questions for an hour.

Lyon eyes

Q: Eight of us are booked to go skiing, travelling on British Airways from London Heathrow to Lyon on 26 January. Our 8.30am flight on BA from Heathrow to Lyon has been changed from a decently early start to 2.40pm, and our Sunday return flight changed from 4.35pm return to an early morning 7.45am.

Not only was this annoying – but when searching a replacement flight outbound, we saw that British Airways was advertising our original flight out at exactly the same time. Not cancelled after all.

Coming home, BA has a return flight at 5.35pm – only an hour after our existing booking from many months ago. On the website we’re directed to call them, but when I’ve tried calling after a long wait I get automatically cut off, with the message “make changes on the website”. How can we get BA to honour our original booking?

Marke B

A: I’m confused about your assertion of the original outbound flight still being advertised by British Airways. At ba.com right now I see only a 1.40pm departure from London Heathrow to Lyon on Wednesday 26 January.

I have checked the Wednesdays either side and while the only flight in evidence on 12 and 19 January is at 1.40pm, there’s also an 8.30am on 2, 9 and 16 February. The only reason I can imagine that you can still see an 8.30am on 26 January is that you are looking at a metasearch site that has not been recently updated.

I would put the cancellation down to lack of demand: British Airways wanting to combine the morning and afternoon flights to save cash. There is an awful lot of that sort of thing around. Given the excruciating squeeze on airlines’ finances, they are not inclined to run services at a loss.

European air passengers’ rights rules stipulate remedies when flights are cancelled. But I don’t believe they will come to your aid: BA is offering you transport within five hours or so of your original trip and therefore will disclaim liability for a replacement flight on a different airline.

Looking at the return journey on (presumably) Sunday 30 January, I am equally confused: yes, there are two departures at 7.45am and 5.35pm, but there is space on both of them and prices are not wildly different. I imagine what happened on this leg was “computer said move passengers earlier”.

I appreciate how frustrating it is to hit problems calling the airline, too. Personally I find 9am on Sunday (when the call centre opens) brings results.

Red list changes

Q: After the closing of the red list, will the Foreign Office follow suit like last time and change the advice for countries that have just come off the red list?

Lucie123456

A: Yes, at least I hope so. The final seven countries, all in Latin America, were due to come off the red list at 4am on Monday 1 November.

Five have been on the high-risk register, requiring hotel quarantine, since it began in February: Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama and Venezuela. The other two are Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

I imagine the Foreign Office will not wish to continue the embarrassing pretence that (for example) Peru is too dangerous for Brits because of coronavirus when all the figures show that infection rates in the UK are 20 times higher.

So while the FCDO still “advises against all but essential travel to the whole of Peru based on the current assessment of Covid-19 risks”, you can expect that to change sometime soon.

But I see that for Haiti, the Foreign Office “advises against all but essential travel to Haiti due to the volatile security situation and the current assessment of Covid-19 risks”.

Q: Do you think we will expect to see borders being slammed shut again against travellers from the UK – in other words, being put on other countries’ red lists?

Paul Rigby

A: Remarkably, countries around Europe and the western world are continuing to stay open to British visitors, and I predict this will continue. But some might step up controls, with a “jab and test” requirement rather than “jab or test”.

Brexit passport issues

Q: Last time I left Lanzarote I didn’t get an exit stamp on my passport (there’s not a border control at the airport?). Will this be an issue for the next Spain holiday?

Señor Alfie

A: Because of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union and become a “third country” all the old certainties about easy admission and unlimited stays have disappeared for British passport holders.

In particular, you must not stay in a Schengen Area country (which covers most EU nations and some hangers-on) for more than 90 days in any 180-day spell.

While stamps in and out help frontier officials track your travel history, I don’t believe there should be a particular problem – border officials know mistakes can happen and will be flexible if you explain the situation.

In case I am wrong, though, I suggest you carry proof of having left the island, such as your boarding pass.

Bureaucracy from Africa

Q: Not being able to fill in the passenger locator form to return to the UK until 48 hours before arrival is causing problems. We will be in West Africa, with no access to the internet, until getting to Banjul airport in Gambia. From past experience, I know that the internet there can be dodgy. We are booked to fly to Brussels, where we have a three-hour gap before the onward flight to London Heathrow.

Presumably Brussels Airlines will let us do the first leg and complete the UK passenger locator form at Brussels? We have already completed the paperwork for the time spent in transit at Brussels airport.

JDKO

A: How marvellous to be in West Africa, and how frustrating to be trapped by the meagre allowance of 48 hours for registering your intention to travel to the UK.

Now, I am not completely confident in saying that you will be allowed on board without a problem. The reason is that airline ground staff have to follow strict protocols, and I imagine one of them says something along the lines of: “Only let a passenger on board if they have all the documents for their final destination.” This makes sense because otherwise you could be stuck in Brussels airport, where you would become the airline’s problem.

In your position I would ask someone at home who is reliable and trustworthy to complete the form on your behalf, so that when you reconnect with cyberspace you get an email with the completed form – hopefully at Banjul airport. Of course they would need your travel and passport details.

Alternatively you can do these three things:

1. On the basis that Brussels may be your first opportunity to complete the passenger locator form, contact the airline and explain your situation well in advance. With luck the member of staff you speak to will be able to add a note to your booking saying, basically, “Please allow this person to board as far as Brussels even though they don’t have the British form.”

2. Set up a passenger locator form account ahead of your trip, which will shortcut things when you fill in the details at the airport.

3. If you are able to log on and complete the form at Banjul airport, then so much the better.

American adventures

Q: I am flying to the US on 12 November and I am still no clearer on where to book or go to for a lateral flow test and how much they are. Any help?

Scribey

A: I have written everything I know about the US rules for British visitors from 8 November, and yet with just 10 days remaining there are still many details unstated.

I can confirm that you must take a Covid test no more than three days before travel. A cheap and rapid antigen (lateral flow) test is acceptable. In terms of timing, the US offers more flexibility than most countries over the pre-departure test.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says: “The three-day period is the three days before the flight’s departure. For example, if a passenger’s flight is at 1pm on a Friday, the passenger could board with a negative test that was taken any time on the prior Tuesday or after.”

But it is, of course, essential to get the right sort of test. For the avoidance of doubt, you cannot use a free NHS lateral flow device. The test must be paid for privately. Nor can you use a provider where you simply email in a photograph of you and the test result; this arrangement is open to fraud.

Assume a proper, medically administered lateral flow test will be required. While there is an option for US providers to offer a video supervision service, in practice I believe that for people in the UK a medically conducted and documented test is the best way forward.

You could take this at a local provider; Boots has a £30 option. Or you could take it at the airport prior to departure. Collinson, which has testing centres at airports including Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester has a deal for £40, and an arrangement with numerous airlines reduces that to £32. I use the British Airways code, BA20OFF, when I am flying with BA.

Quarantine question

Q: Do you know if there are any plans to reduce the self-isolation period for non-vaccinated travellers from green list countries? I believe in France it is seven days whilst here in the UK it is 10 days at the moment.

Nlm

A: Increasingly, unvaccinated adults are treated very differently from those who have been fully jabbed. As you say, self-isolation is obligatory for unvaccinated arrivals to the UK from any country except Ireland (plus PCR tests on days two and eight).

While the UK’s quarantine spell was reduced from 14 days to 10 days last December, I cannot see much prospect that it will change. In England, arrivals can quit self-isolation after five days if they take another test.

Sunny Christmas at Bondi Beach?

Q: What are chances of Australia tourism opening up to British visitors before Christmas 2021?

Fraser 61

A: Your question is timely. On the morning of 3 November the first Qantas scheduled passenger flight from the UK to Australia for nearly 20 months is due to touch down at Sydney airport. While the Australian airline has operated a series of repatriation flights, the new departures can be booked just like any other flight – so long as the passenger is an Australian citizen or permanent resident.

They can return New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory (basically Canberra) without needing to quarantine.

But that is a long way from restoring anything like normal ties for British visitors. Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister (and former boss of Tourism Australia) appears set against any return of international travellers until 2022. The one exception is for people from New Zealand – and possibly some other Pacific islands – where Covid levels are close to zero and no threat is perceived.

Mr Morrison has said very little about tourism from elsewhere – and is prioritising skilled workers migrating to Australia and international students before considering tourists.

“We will get to international visitors as well, I believe next year,” he said last month almost as an afterthought.

So the answer to your question, bluntly, is “zero”.

The continuing ban, with prospective British travellers with families or partners in Australia unsure when they might be able to visit, is causing much emotional as well as economic damage.

Informal soundings I have taken with interested parties in the travel industry indicate a consensus of the second half of 2022. Were it to be July, though, that would be a dismal time of year in southern parts of Australia.

The best hope for a reasonably swift reopening – which I would call the first half of next year – will be if pressure grows from tourism businesses and the aviation industry, primarily in NSW, Victoria and Queensland. Western Australia, where Covid cases are very low, may open much later than the rest of the nation.

Qantas has rerouted its nonstop Australian flights from Perth to Darwin, the Northern Territory capital – which for the next few months at least will enjoy the remarkable situation of a small, remote city (population 132,000) with daily nonstop flights to and from London, 8,620 miles and 17 hours away.

Pass problem

Q: The UK is now connected to the EU covid certificate and the EU are saying travellers can enter the UK under the same conditions on the EU covid certificate. The EU covid certificate recognises past infection as immunity for 180 days for the purposes of travel. Will the UK also recognise this past infection immunity in lieu of vaccine?

UK in CZ

A: Not as far as I know. The UK has consistently ignored recovery from infection as being as good as vaccination and there is no sign of that changing.

Fuelling expectations

Q: We usually drive through Luxembourg en route to Germany and fill up with cheap petrol there. Is this still allowed as I’m not sure whether Luxembourg are letting us in even if fully vaccinated?

D Taylor

A: Since the UK opted to be a “third country” from the point of view of the European Union, each EU nation can impose its own restrictions on British visitors. Until this weekend, trips to Luxembourg by British visitors were banned except for essential reasons. (And that didn’t include filling up your tank.)

But since the European Union now recognises the UK’s NHS Covid app as equivalent to the digital Covid certificate, tourists and anyone else from the UK are now welcome in the Grand Duchy.

In practice, the absence of border controls meant that many Brits probably got away with it, but of course anywhere in Europe, if you have a British-registered car and there are restrictions against travel then you might attract the attention of the local police – who may be on the look-out for unauthorised visitors.

Jab journeys

Q: Do you think three-jab guidance will be in place early 2022? I am hoping to book to go away in January but I am worried that me and my partner won’t have had our booster by then.

Yyhsas

A: While the world is at sixes and sevens over recognition of one, two or three jabs, I am pretty sure that the World Health Organisation definition of fully jabbed (two doses of AstraZeneca or Pfizer, for example) will prevail for most of next year.

The only countries that I am aware of which are serious outliers are Israel and Austria, which specify that second shots of vaccines – or boosters – must be no more than 180 or 360 days old respectively.

Q: When can we expect EU vaccines to be recognised by the UK government to avoid self-isolation after another passenger tests positive on a plane? My parents fully vaccinated in Italy were asked to self-isolate for 10 days, which is beyond ridiculous.

Italian In London

A: “Beyond ridiculous” sums up the attitude of the UK government. But as with so many aspects of travel during the coronavirus pandemic, ministers have emphasised “British exceptionalism” – even when, as at the moment, the only exceptional characteristic are the highest Covid infection rates in western Europe.

As the article here explains, the government’s attitude is that foreigners can’t be trusted to jab people properly. To justify this attitude, NHS Track and Trace actually says: “Elsewhere the same vaccine may be stored or administered to different standards or protocols.”

Sorry that your parents are in this absurd situation.

Q: As a fully vaccinated traveller, I’m looking to visit the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) via the Republic of Cyprus. I will be flying into Paphos and crossing the “green line” to stay at Kyrenia.

Covid-related entry requirements for the Republic of Cyprus are clear, as are those for returning to the UK, but there is some ambiguity about those for TRNC. As the UK government does not recognise TRNC, there is no information on the Foreign Office website. Could you clarify the current situation please?

Northern Blue

A: Let me begin with a necessary warning that the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognised only by Turkey, and regarded by everyone else as an illegal occupation.

First, I tried the North Cyprus Tourist Centre in central London. It has a website that contains zero information on Covid rules. I have tried to reach the staff by phone without success (020-7631 1930 if you want to try), and I am not inclined to send them a fax as invited.

I then found some information from the TRNC’s Ministry of Health. Travellers must download the StaySafe app (oddly, it was launched by the Philippines government but appears to be used by Northern Cyprus) and create a Digital Travel Document from the Travel Code Transactions section.

You will need a negative result from a test. That could be a PCR test taken within 72 hours before you enter, but travellers who are fully vaccinated can instead be tested upon arrival – for you, the option for a cheap and quick lateral flow test on arrival is surely preferable.

Finally, you will probably need the TRNC’s Adapass app as well to secure admission to any facilities from banks to betting shops.

Hungary for success

Q: My daughter, aged 15, has been selected to represent GB fencing in Hungary later this month. I am fully vaccinated and am taking her. She is unvaccinated because she had Covid when the vaccination was due. She has now recovered.

The NHS says she should not have a PCR or lateral flow test for 90 days because it may give a false positive. But Hungary requires either a PCR test or evidence of recovery to enter.

Evidence of recovery from the NHS seems to be available only to those aged 16-plus. How can I get evidence of her recovery – or what can I do that Hungary will be satisfied with to enter the country?

Proud Dad

A: Congratulations on your daughter’s selection, but how frustrating to find yourselves in this tricky situation. I suggest she takes a PCR test as soon as possible, to assess whether it is likely that the “real” test to travel will yield a false positive – suggesting that she is infectious, when she is not.

If the test result is positive, I can see an alternative way through. The Foreign Office points out: “You can enter Hungary by road, rail and waterway from all the countries neighbouring Hungary (Croatia, Austria, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine) without any epidemiological restrictions, regardless of your nationality and coronavirus immunity.”

In other words – get into one of those nations and you have a clear run. So it’s a matter of choosing one of those countries that will admit her without proof of jabs or having to take a PCR test.

Of the options, Slovenia looks easiest. She will need a lateral flow test taken within 48 hours of departure, but all the evidence I have indicates that false positives are most unlikely with these cheap, rapid tests. Once there, you will need to travel across Slovenia’s eastern border with Hungary, near the city of Maribor. It is a lovely journey, which could an interesting element to your trip.

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