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Flying in the Time of Covid

The added hoops you have to go through can cost way more than the ticket itself

In order to get some fresh air, we typically go for a walk up to a pathway across an extension of River Thames facing the London City Airport. Before the pandemic, the airport was set to see 6.5 million passengers per year by 2022.

“One, two, three, four, five, six.” I would count grounded planes each time, seeing none flying and no people in sight.

The pandemic has stopped most air travel over the last ten months. In the short and sporadic time frames that planes are allowed to fly, travellers now find themselves faced with a set of new hurdles to go through. In the last few weeks, I trawled information on the web to sort some air travel so I share some learnings in this post.

It is no longer a given fact that there are flights to your destination.

Before the pandemic, flights to most destinations are almost always available that we didn’t have to think if there were flights or not. But not in these Covid times. Borders have been opened then closed then opened again. It can change anytime. For example, the mink farm situation in Denmark suddenly prompted European countries to block travellers from Denmark. A similar experience happened to travellers from the UK as they were not welcomed in other countries when cases surged around July.

This also means you are taking a bigger risk in booking a flight a month into the future. Some airlines have softened rebooking policies though so this is something passengers might be able to take advantage of.

The new travel requirement : a PCR test certifying that you are negative for SARS-CoV-2.

There are 2 things worth thinking about for this new requirement.

  1. The timing. For most destinations, the test should be done not earlier than 72 hours before the flight. Therefore, you have to plan the timing of your PCR test to ensure you are within the required cut-off. If you are ordering the home kits, you need to plan the time you supposed to receive the kits, send your sample to the lab and the number of hours you expect the result to get back to you so you can be allowed to board. If you are going to take a test in a clinic, you have to book an appointment in advance or find clinics that allow walk-in clients.
  2. The cost. In the UK, the PCR test cost mainly depends on how urgently you want your results to be delivered. The range of costs in London are typically GBP 109, GBP 145, GBP 250, or above GBP 300. The cheapest option is the home kit where you order a kit to be delivered to your home, you do the swab yourself, and send it to the lab. The results can get back to you in 24 to 48 hours depending on the circumstances. This is a higher risk given the 72-hour cut-off (see point number 1). The higher priced tests mean that you pay for being able to a walk in a clinic and get your results prioritised, for example, receive it on the same day or within 24 hours. The PCR test cost can go as high as GBP 350. This is quite a big budget for the trip considering that one can get a return ticket for travel within Europe for as low as GBP 17.

Self-quarantine requirements might be in place for the country of destination.

Some countries have set specific requirements to self-isolate once you have entered the border. Always check the travel authorities’ home page as some countries, e.g. the Philippines, may require you to book specific hotels only. Others like the UK also allowed Airbnb booking for 14 days.

Your reason for travel may not be permitted and you may be blocked at the border.

If you have the negative Covid test certificate and have successfully boarded the plane, the next hurdle you could face is the travel policy of the country itself. Some countries now require only specific reasons to enter. For example, some countries like Denmark may allow only those with direct family ties to the country and the rest with no such “strong reason” might be asked to book a flight out.

The main thing to take away.

If you are considering travelling and you do not like leaving things to chance, you need to do a lot more research and planning than you would do before the pandemic. It costs time, energy, and money searching and taking the right PCR test, looking for the most up-to-date information from travel authorities, airlines, and other relevant groups.

Until the vaccines are distributed widely and immunity has been sufficiently achieved, travellers need to do a lot more work planning, and pay a lot more money in order to travel in the time of Covid. Or better yet, perhaps just stay locally if you can.



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