Updated: Aug 16, 2021
Travel at the moment is an expensive catastrophe, here's how not to get fined £1000, turned away from your flight and possibly how to save a couple of pounds along the way.
International travel didn't so much "open up" on May 17th as announced, it was more a case of made legal. Travel, at the moment, even to green list countries is both confusing, expensive and down right frustrating with differing information being delivered to us from the PM, The Foreign Office, Airlines, Airports and the NHS.
I flew from Barcelona, Spain, to the UK for an 11 day trip beginning on Monday May 25th and here's what I experienced and what I have learned since on exactly how it all works.
I'll start with flying out of the UK.
The test you will need to fly out of the UK, called a "fit to fly", will depend on your destination country. You will need a negative covid test to board flights to most countries at the moment and the type of test they accept varies from nation to nation. Portugal, for example, on the UKs green list, specifically requires a PCR test to enter. Spain on the other hand now doesn't require any type of negative covid test on arrival from the UK. Other destinations may accept LAMP and Antigen tests, make sure you double check the test required before you book one. There is an extensive list of entry requirements to each country on the gov.uk website, linked at the bottom of this article.
Some countries also have testing in the airport on arrival for passengers who have arrived without a certificate, this is usually on an airport by airport basis so do double check it's offered at the specific airport you are arriving at before you fly.
There are many services which offer fit to fly certificates, my main piece of takeaway advice from personal experience is if at all possible not to use a postal service. I used Assured Screening before Christmas to fly to Spain and it was the most stressful experience. Many of these companies doctor their reviews on sites such as Trip Advisor and their website so please do your due diligence, I did not. The google reviews on this company and ones like it, are heartbreaking. Assured Screening disabled it's phone lines when I used it, advised you that the date on your certificate would be whatever date you entered into the form, with 24 hours until my flight and no sign of my results I discovered the tracking number they had given me didn't work, they had no idea where my sample was and what was worse, is that they didn't care. If your flight depends on a timely test result, find a walk in service.
Eventually I used the Collison testing service in Stanstead Airport and I couldn't recommend it more. At the time I was required to have a LAMP test to enter Spain and the process was simple and super quick. You should book your testing spot ahead of time online for at least two hours before boarding, check in, pay at the airport, get tested and you wait for an email to let you know your certificate is ready for collection at the same location. I waited an hour and a half for my LAMP results, antigen and PCR would be different. It took all the stress out of the situation, professional and reliable.
You cannot use an NHS test for travel purposes. This is a common misunderstanding as some carriers previously accepted these tests but are now unable to accept them legally. I have heard from several people who work at airports that this is the number one reason they see people being turned away from flights.
Once you have your testing sorted you'll need to fill in your destination countries equivalent of the Passenger Locator Form. This should be a relatively simple process. They usually require you to have checked in prior to filling in the form so you can add your seat number and you will also require your accommodation address.
Another thing to note is that some airlines at the moment, Vueling for one, isn't allowing any overhead luggage on the plane so your carry on suitcases will need to be checked in free of charge at the luggage check. This isn't optional and there is now a charge to check it at the gate so do make sure you have a backpack or smaller bag with you to keep anything on you that you don't want to go in the hold. This isn't the same for all carriers but definitely worth checking.
Now we move on to the somewhat more complicated matter of flying back into the UK. Grab a tea, settle in and take notes if you need.
My personal experience is flying into the UK from Barcelona which is currently on the Amber list but I have included information on Green listed destinations too as there is a lot of confusion about which testing is required.
The basics. Passengers from all countries are required to fill in a Passenger Locator Form (linked below), along with a negative covid test taken in 72 hours prior to the flight. This test can be a PCR test OR a LAMP or Antigen test provided it meets certain specifications and sensitivities.
Performance standard more than 97%
Sensitivity at more than 80%
At viral loads above 100,000 copies per ml
Do I know what that means? Absolutely not, your service provider will though and if you do go for a LAMP or Antigen test do make sure it meets the minimum requirements.
You also need to have certain information included on your test result certificate which can be presented either on paper or digitally on your phone. This info is very important, your test won't be accepted if it doesn't include
Name to match your travel document
Date of Birth
Date the sample was collected
Name and contact details of your test provider
Confirmation of the device used for the test or that it was a PCR.
I recommend booking your return test in your destination country in advance. Many of the providers of the cheaper tests get fully booked, particularly for weekend travel and many have limited hours at weekends. A quick google search should show you clinics close to your accommodation and usually you can book online.
If you are resident outside of the UK and flying into the UK is your outward journey its worth checking your medical insurance. I have Sanitas insurance and my antigen test, provided with a certificate, was covered in my policy.
Here's where the info you need differs depending on your destination falls in the traffic light system.
If you are travelling back from a country on the Green list you will need to complete a Passenger Locator form with all the details of your stay and contact details.
You will also need to have pre booked a Day 2 test to be delivered to your UK address which you will need to take and send back to the lab on day 2 or before on your return.
You need to include the reference number and the name of the lab service provider on your locator form. Boarder officials can also ask to see your confirmation email from the lab.
This does not mean you have to quarantine until you have taken the test or received the results but you must have it booked, you cannot use an NHS service for this. The government has a list of "recommended" labs on the gov.uk website which does seem a lot like racketeering.
You are not exempt from any of these tests if you are vaccinated.
The list comes up in price order, or so it says but do look through it properly many of the labs which offer cheaper testing have advertised the list price without VAT or ridiculous shipping charges, others are sold out for certain dates. Do your research.
For Amber list arrivals you will need to have pre booked Day 2 & 8 tests for your arrival and will need to be able to prove this to boarder guards.
Having a "test to release" test booked for day 5 doesn't make any difference to the requirement to have the additional Day 2 & 8 booked. If you wish to cut your quarantine short with the TTR you still need to have pre paid for 2&8 tests and you still need to take them.
I paid around £110 for my Day 2 & 8 from Dante Labs which arrived on time, was reasonably priced compared to many of the others but I don't have enough information on to recommend just yet as I am yet to experience the full service.
If your trip to the UK is 12 days or less, some of the providers of Day 2 and 8 Tests will issue you a fit to fly for your return trip with your negative result which could save you money on your way back, it's definitely something that's worth looking into.
I flew into Stanstead airport and the boarder officials were checking everyones documentation closely . I saw many people fined hundreds of pounds. Many were saying they were exempt from the Day 2 & 8 tests or that they were only staying for a short time but without evidence of your travel being back from employment which is exempt this wasn't accepted. I believe there is a loophole if you are travelling through the UK in transit elsewhere, and have to travel to a second airport within the UK for the second leg of your journey but if this is the case you need to show evidence of your next flight which has to be in the following 24 hours and of the transport you are taking to get to that airport.
I children under the age of 11 are exempt from taking these tests, do double check because this information changes all the time.
I genuinely saw tens of people dragged off and fined, on top of having to buy the testing kits, it seems, at the moment at least that the checks on entering the country are extensive.
I found the whole trip quite stressful, but I think that was a lot to do with it being so unknown, I hope this information can clear things up a little.
Do your research, things change daily, and cutting corners on testing expenses, while I know is very tempting, is not worth losing your holiday or getting a huge fine over.
I, and readers would really appreciate any insight on testing services you guys have used and found fabulous, or terrible in the comments if you have a few minutes.
This also goes for testing services outside of the UK, particularly in popular holiday destinations.
The only two services I have heard consistently good feedback from for fit to Fly testing so far are
Collison - who I have used personally
Good luck and do update me on any info that might be useful to include.
Other useful links
UK Passenger locator form
Government Foreign Travel Advice
Day 2 & 8 Test Providers
Spain travel advice