The travel correspondent of The Independent is never happier than when sampling a rich tawny at the Graham’s 1890 Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia, overlooking the Douro. But given the shock news about Portugal being relegated from “green list” to amber, he has rearranged his schedule – and was available to answer your pressing travel issues live for an hour after the government’s review of the “traffic light” categories on 3 June.
This is the compilation of the key questions and answers.
Q: I have booked to go to Portugal on 3 July from Belfast with Jet2. How likely do you think it is that Portugal will be put back on the green list at the next government review? Jet2 have informed me their travel schedule is now due to commence on 1 July rather than original date of 24 June. But they are giving me the option to rebook for an alternative date.
I am apprehensive that Jet2 will withdraw this offer after the next government announcement if Portugal remains on the amber list. What would you advise? Also to rebook a date that would be suitable is significantly more expensive. Any advice would be much appreciated!
A: The boss of Jet2, like his colleagues in many other large tourism businesses, is aghast at the UK government’s move yesterday to slap a quarantine requirement on travellers from Portugal.
The data I am seeing suggests that Portugal should make a rapid return to green list status. The big problem is, though, that the UK government made such a complex and convoluted argument for placing Portugal in amber that it will be difficult to roll back. So I would say only 50-50.
If it does change for the better, the easement likely to take effect on 29 June.
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Q: I am baffled and appalled at the news of Portugal leaving the green list without any obvious reasons. Given that this all seems political more than based on scientific data, what do you think are the chances of the UK aligning to the EU on the green pass/vaccine passport?
A: A low chance. In any event, I see the digital Covid certificate from the EU as a fairly transient phenomenon. My sense is that once coronavirus rates across Europe are low and stable, there will be much less concern over individuals’ health status – and a greater focus on populations’ rates.
Q: I have heard this morning on the radio that people are having trouble booking tests to come home from Portugal. You might want to comment on this?
A: I haven’t been in the Algarve for a couple of weeks, but when I was there the entire health industry appeared to be gearing up to provide pre-departure tests for returning Brits. Besides the clinic at Faro airport, many big hotels have testing facilities – as do pharmacies in resorts.
Q: We, like a lot of people, have a trip booked to Portugal on 12 June for two weeks. We are both retired, so 10 days’ quarantine on return is no problem. I presume we won’t be asked for reason for flying?
A: Since 17 May, nobody should be asked for the reason for flying. It is remarkable that government ministers lifted the “no international travel ban” on that date, and the following day started saying you should not travel to amber destinations except in an emergency.
If they were so keen for us not to go, I have no idea why they removed the restriction – except that the plan was on the government’s original unlocking roadmap. A cynic would say they are more focused on dates than data.
Q: My daughter is due to fly from Portugal next Friday, 11 June, to visit her brother and myself – her father for three days. Can she still fly back on Monday after another test?
A: Your daughter can spend as long or as short a time in the UK as she likes. She will have to go straight to her place of quarantine – presumably you are home – and stay there. But if she wants to leave after three days she can, so long as she goes direct to the airport.
The day two PCR test she is required to take will serve for the Portuguese requirement, too.
Next “traffic light” changes
Q: Booked for Skiathos on 2 July. Do you think we will see it, and other Greek islands, turn green on next review?
A: There should be a very strong chance that Skiathos, along with many other islands around the Mediterranean, is added to the green list. But after the government’s decisions on “traffic lights” yesterday I am afraid it is impossible to predict; the data that I and many others had been checking, on coronavirus rates and vaccine roll-outs, to evaluate the prospects of a quarantine-free rating, appear no longer to be of especial interest to the government when deciding whether a destination is low risk.
Q: How likely do you think it is that the islands of Spain will be treated differently to mainland in terms of list status? I had hopes that the government would put them on the green list.
Also, is there a schedule of announcements for changes list or as and when the risk changes
A: Answering your last question first: I think we can infer that the next review of the traffic light categorisation will take place on Thursday 24 June, and take effect the following Tuesday 29 June.
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, has said that an “islands policy” is being contemplated, but he has chosen not to deploy it yet.
Certainly the Balearic Islands look well ahead of most of the rest of Spain in terms of keeping rates down and vaccinations up, but as mentioned earlier there may be other criteria at work.
Q: Do you think it’s possible, given the backlash from Thursday’s decisions, that the government will review before their timetable of reviewing every three weeks, ie having the next review before 24 June?
A: No. The government has shown no interest in fostering the rebuilding and repair of the travel industry. Furthermore any acceleration could be seen as an admission of being wrong.
The only exception: it may be that a deal with the US gets made when the president, Joe Biden, comes to the UK next week for the G7 Summit in Cornwall, He could lift the presidential ban on arrivals from the UK, in force for the past 15 months, in return for green list status for America.
Q: I take biosecurity and covid controls very seriously. I have had both jabs, limit social contacts, etc. But I need to travel to Spain. The ferry to Spain is booked for the end of June to drive to our own house, work there for a month or so then travel back to self-isolate here.
This morning we have government ministers telling us no-one should travel to amber list countries but not explaining why. The government website refers to non-essential travel. What is the definition?
A: Dawn, please don’t fret about the dire warnings about non-essential travel to amber countries. They are bizarre: the government had a law in place until 17 May that banned all non-essential journeys abroad.
Today, if you have a reason to want to visit Spain (or anywhere else in the world) such as property, a loved one or simply to have a great escape, then go ahead. But of course follow all the rules on your return.
Q: Are any domestic short haul airlines offering totally flexible bookings? I know BA are sort of but you can only cancel (for a voucher) or change up to three weeks before. With the way the government are working three weeks is too risky!
A: The best way to get complete flexibility in your booking is to book at the last possible moment – though this of course could mean fares are very high.
But I am unaware that there is a time limit on British Airways. Last time I checked, it was possible to change your booking any time up to the closure of check-in. And if I am not mistaken, easyJet and Ryanair offer much the same – though Ryanair insists you stick to the same route.
Should we travel anywhere abroad?
Q: Viruses mutate and by definition those that succeed are more infectious and may challenge vaccines. That is what we are facing now with the Delta variant – brought to us by inadequately controlled and largely unnecessary international travel. Given the latest data and what experts are telling us, why are we even talking about unnecessary international travel? It is not just the travel business which is at risk from these continuing waves of an increasingly infectious virus.
Brian G M
A: There is a really important discussion to be had about the amount of caution and control hat should be applied to travel in the long term. I look forward to exploring the topic more widely.
Q: I wonder that the YouGov poll showing 60 per cent-plus support for quarantine is a tad misleading? In this case given the question asked can lead to a respondent feeling that it is virtuous behaviour to respond in the affirmative (ie yes to quarantine).
A: That’s a really interesting perspective. I am sure there is an element of “good behaviour” in the responses, but survey after survey shows a majority in favour of restricting travel.
Jabs and journeys
Q: Do you think the government will implement less testing requirements for people who have been vaccinated any time soon? Many thanks!
A: The government shows no sign of giving any concession to people who have been lucky enough to have completed a course of vaccination. Oddly, the thing that may persuade ministers to change their mind is inbound tourism rather than returning holidaymakers.
While the government has shown little interest in the UK inbound travel industry, when bankruptcies and redundancies start to build, it may ease some of the most draconian restrictions in Europe.
Q: One of the issues I see in the current chaotic travel situation is that there is no unified voice for disgruntled travellers to coalesce behind. Each airline speaks independently. What body should step up and act as a unilateral spokesperson for travellers and travel companies?
A: Good question. The short answer is that Abta, the travel association, is the closest match to your proposition. It represents travel agencies and tour operators. Airlines UK, meanwhile, speaks for British-based airlines.
Red alert for UK
Q: Do you envisage any other European countries banning UK flights? We’re heading to Italy next week for a family reunion and are nervously excited as it’s looking ok!
A: All EU countries are looking with concern about what is happening in the UK, where infection rates are up around 75 per cent in a week. It is entirely feasible that if rates continue to increase then flight bans may be brought in.
Italy, though has remained pretty open to Brits throughout the pandemic, and I predict this will continue.
Q: My wife and I have been fortunate to have been granted a sabbatical from our jobs and plan to travel to Asturias in Spain for two months in September 2021 returning in November. Then in January 2022 we plan to travel to New Zealand, Australia, Japan and Canada. What do think is the likelihood that these trips can go ahead?
A: How wonderful to be spending autumn in northern Spain. That trip looks certain to go ahead.
But please let me caution against your plans for January 2022. I would be extremely surprised if either Australia or New Zealand were to be welcoming UK tourists in by then. And any multi-country itinerary can trigger massive complications in the coronavirus era.
Q: I am due to fly to Ireland at the end of June for a few days, I know I’ll need a test before I fly to Ireland but will I need one for my return flight back to London? I keep reading that I won’t need one.
A: Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, no one has needed to be tested when travelling from Ireland to the UK.
Q: I want to go to Barcelona to see my grandson who’s out there having treatment for cancer. I’ve had both of my jabs and I’m happy to pay for tests to come back into the country but I just wanted some guidance as to what the process will be for me.
As I understand it, to come back I will need a PCR test within the last few days before my return. I know that I will have to quarantine when I come back to the country and take two further tests. Have I got this all right please?
A: Sorry to hear about your stress, and my good wishes for your grandson for his treatment.
Yes, the rules on testing when you return to the UK are complicated, which is why there are many misapprehensions. You do not need a PCR test to be allowed on a flight to the UK – a lateral flow one will do, but it must be medically certified.
You will have to pre-book two tests in the UK for days two and eight of your self-isolation, with a third on or after day five if you want to Test To Release.
Q: I am thinking about using the Test To Release scheme where same-day results are available and have a flight booked due to arrive in Manchester at 23.50 on a Sunday. If this flight is delayed and arrives after midnight, does that mean the Monday will count as day 0 so my test to release appointment will need amending?
A: Yes, it appears you would need to shift the day. But if the wheels are down on the runway before midnight, that would count as being in the UK on the “correct” day, I believe.
Q: Why is travel so much harder this year compared to last year? We have the vaccine and mass testing this year ?
A: I agree it looks absolutely mystifying. I have just flown back from Gibraltar, six months to the day after I last flew back from the British Overseas Territory.
On the first occasion, all one needed was to complete the UK passenger locator form (PLF). The palaver involved in getting the right tests lined up, and for completing the ever more complex PLF, is far tougher now. Red tape is a killer of anyone’s passion for travel – and expensive, with the pre-departure and post-arrival tests working out at £100 per person.
Opening up America
Q: Will this week’s news regarding the traffic light lists affect progress with the US in your opinion? We are planning on a trip there beginning 25 August. How confident are you that we’ll be able to go by then? We don’t care if it’s amber, as we can isolate on return, but we’d need them to allow us in first and foremost.
Jimbo R M
A: Had you asked two days ago I would have said 95 per cent confident; today it is 90 per cent likely.
Laundering “red list” status
Q: Just to check to achieve 10 full days outside red list country by going to green or amber. For starting time outside the red list what is the exact definition of leaving the country – is it a) the time that your flight leaves the red list country? So time spent on the flight is considered outside red list or b) Is it the time you land in an amber or green country from the red list country?
Also, what time is considered as entering the UK. Is it the time your flight lands in the UK or is the time that you pass UK immigration control?
A: It is so important to get this right. Some unfortunate folk have miscalculated by just a few hours and found themselves in hotel quarantine at fast expense for 11 nights.
If you are in any doubt at all, err on the side of caution. The last day that you were in a red list country is described as day zero. You must spend a full 10 days outside of that country if you are to be able to swerve the hotel quarantine.
So if I flew today, 4 June, from Brazil to Portugal (regardless of the departure time), I would need to stay in Portugal from 5 June to 14 June inclusive – and to arrive back in the UK no earlier than 15 June. At that point I could assert that I have not been in a red list country over the previous 10 days.
Q: Do you have any advice on getting money back from the online travel agent GoToGate? I’ve been waiting nearly a year after flight was cancelled by the airline. When I manage to contact someone I just get the runaround from airline and GoToGate, each blaming the other. There seems to be no way of resolving this.
A: Prior to Brexit, it would have been very easy: seek a refund from this Swedish online travel agent through the European small claims procedure. Sadly when we left the EU we opted to give up on that option.
If your flight was cancelled by a UK airline, you could try getting legalistic with them – but that approach is likely to be rejected because you chose to enter into a contract with a foreign company rather than direct with the carrier.
The best hope: see if your card issuer will be at all flexible on a chargeback. When I was in a similar position, with BudgetAir.co.uk (based in the Netherlands), my bank refunded the £77 owed for a cancelled flight in March 2020.
Q: How much longer do you think airlines like easyJet and Ryanair can last with these restrictions. As a working-class person, I rely on these airlines heavily. I am concerned they may go bust or may have to vastly reduce their fleets.
A: Before the coronavirus pandemic, Ryanair and easyJet were the budget giants of Europe. They were the two safest airlines in the world in terms of the numbers of passengers flown without a fatal accident; handsomely profitable; and delivered outstanding value. So investors still regard them as good bets for the future.
As we saw from the share price falls after the UK government tightened travel restrictions, the market has limits to its patience. The longer this goes on, the more they will be mere shadows of their former selves.
Q: What do you think the chances are that France will either remove its ban on UK travellers within the next couple of months, or at least allow fully vaccinated travellers from UK with testing?
A high chance. I would be very surprised if the current essential-travel-only rule for people from the UK going to France is still in effect by Bastille Day (14 July).
Q: Any idea when fully vaccinated passengers from France will be able to travel to England without needing multiple PCR tests?
A: At this time 48 hours ago I would have said: by the end of June the government in London will reduce its currently onerous and expensive testing regime. But as mentioned earlier, the traffic light rearrangement has flummoxed my prophecies.