How has covid changed travel?

During a pandemic, planning a long haul multi-centre holiday to 2 different countries, transiting another is actually pretty stressful!

Most of what’s written here will only make sense in context of the overall trip so you may want to read this first.

When I booked the flights for The Bahamas, the FCDO were still advising against all but essential travel there. It didn’t really matter because I booked the flights with Avios so I could cancel them up to 24 hours before departure for a small fee. The flight to Paris was also booked with Avios and all of the hotels had flexible cancellation policies so if restrictions didn’t change, I’d just cancel the trip.

Whilst that was the case, the closer we got to departure and when it came to the point of having to pay for non-refundable items like excursions, train tickets and currency, is when it started to get tense.

I was particularly worried about France blocking arrivals from The Bahamas, so not only did I have to check what the rules were for travelling out of the UK to The Bahamas, but also Bahamas to France and France to the UK. Only about a month before the trip did the FCDO remove its ridiculous travel ban on The Bahamas, and most of the world. Now I could start planning as if the trip would actually happen and the first thing I needed to sort was travel insurance.

Since covid, selecting insurance has never been more important, or difficult. You need to try and find a policy that will give you adequate cover in case;

• you get covid or are told to self-isolate just before departure and can’t travel – most good policies will cover this

• you test positive for covid on arrival or during your trip and have to quarantine – most good policies will cover this

• you have to cancel because of a lockdown at home or at your destination – no policies cover this that I know of

• you have to cancel because the FCDO advises against travel to your destination – some policies cover this

Throw in the fact that we were travelling to the Caribbean and finding a reasonably priced policy wasn’t easy, as most insurers lumped the Caribbean in with the US which always inflates the premium because of the high cost of healthcare there.

After much deliberation, I settled on MultiTrip Insurance. They didn’t tick all of the boxes but the cover was adequate for what I needed and they didn’t shove the Caribbean in with the US so the premium was noticeably better than others.

Part of the entry requirements for The Bahamas was that you have to pay for their health insurance ($50pp) so I was comfortable that we were covered in the event of a medical event.

The Bahamas also required a negative antigen or PCR test taken within 5 days of arrival in order for the tourist health visa to be issued. British Airways have deals for tests with various companies and I selected Screen4 as they had really decent reviews on Trustpilot, were cheap and are based in Yorkshire. I ordered the tests about 2 weeks before I needed to take them so I knew I’d have them in hand on the big day.

Taking the tests was just like any other antigen and uploading the result was fairly straightforward other than I clicked on the wrong camera on my phone and couldn’t switch to the right one so ended up having to use my iPad. The website was ok to use, but fiddly on a phone screen. The confirmation of the negative result was emailed within minutes.

The Bahamas tourism website says that the health visa can take up to 48 hours to approve. Considering I had up to 24 hours before the flight to cancel it, we did the tests on the Sunday evening before our Thursday flight. The logic being, that if the visa takes 48 hours, it should come through by the latest of Tuesday and I could cancel the flights up to Wednesday morning. As it was, the visa approval came through in 2 hours and 1 minute.

Now that we had our negative test and visa approval, we could upload these in to VeriFLY together with our proof of vaccination. BA have partnered with VeriFLY to do document checks prior to check-in and I’d read mostly negative reviews about them online but I found the app easy to use and somewhat reassuring that I had all of the paperwork I needed. The lady checking us in at Heathrow didn’t ask to see the app with its green ticks, but we were asked to show it when checking in at Nassau.

I had a wodge of paperwork printed as well as copies in my emails and stored on my phone. I wasn’t taking any chances with losing something and not having a spare. About an hour before we were setting off for the airport, the EU announced that it would accept the UK’s covid pass on the continent, but that meant generating new QR codes that would be recognised in Europe. I managed it pretty easily via the NHS covid app and printed a copy but mum’s app just wouldn’t work and kept erroring. We weren’t actually going to France for another week so there was no rush to get a new pass, but it hammered home how quickly things can change nowadays and how you need to keep an eye on the news just in case something does.

When we arrived In Nassau, our Bahamas health visa document was checked but I didn’t notice the border agent scan the QR code.

There was a lot of confusion about testing rules whilst in The Bahamas. The rules around negative tests were contradictory on The Bahamas tourism website, which didn’t help. One page of the website said that those fully vaccinated were exempt from testing every 5 days but also that everyone travelling inter-island needed a negative test dated within 5 days. As our snorkelling trip was supposed to include a visit to Rose Island, the hotel advised us to have a test as the tests we’d had prior to travel were already more than 5 days old. In the end, we didn’t get to Rose Island so we spent $50 on tests for no reason. I’m still not even sure if it was ever required! Flying Cloud gave no advice, despite me emailing them twice to clarify.

I filled in the UK passenger locator form and uploaded it into VeriFLY for our flight to Paris, via London. I’d expected that we’d be going landside to transit and put that on the form, but in the end, because the bags got checked through, we didn’t need to go landside. I didn’t know if I should fill in a new form, but as we were hours from departure, I decided not to and would just explain if anyone questioned it. No one asked to see our PLF at any point during our transfer at Heathrow.

Because I’d used VeriFLY for the flight to Paris, we boarded the plane with no problem but a lot of other passengers did have document issues which contributed to the flight leaving late. Seems like VeriFLY might be decent after all.

Our UK issued covid pass was checked on the walk from the plane to passport control at Charles de Gaulle. I had it out again at passport control but they didn’t want to see it. He just stamped our passports and we were away. Yes – our passports were stamped – in Europe! No one asked to see the Sworn Statement declaring you’re free of covid symptoms which the French government ask you to fill in.

We weren’t asked to show our covid pass at the Eiffel Tower. We were asked if we had a pass when having coffee and cake near the Tower, but he didn’t want to actually see it! We were asked for our passes at Versailles.

Although the Eurostar staff briefly glanced at our Passenger Locator Form when we arrived at Gare du Nord for our train to London, we were straight through the border at St Pancras and no one asked to see a PLF there, although some passengers were being spot checked. The snippets of conversations I overheard were general questions and not covid related, so not sure what they were about. This PLF didn’t actually have proof of vaccination attached to it as the website wouldn’t scan the QR codes or allow me to upload the certificate so our vaccination status wasn’t checked at all on arrival back in the UK.

We checked in to the Pullman St Pancras and then went for our Day 2 tests which came back negative within about 20 minutes. I was going to book Screen4 again, but they wouldn’t send the tests out until a few days before we had to take them. As we weren’t going to be at home for the first few days back in the UK, I chose to do in person testing with London Medical, recommended by Eurostar. It was only £10pp more than Screen4 so not the end of the world.

In the end, we each filled in;

1 form to get in to The Bahamas.

1 form to transit the UK.

1 form to enter France.

1 form to enter the UK.

We took;

1 test to apply for The Bahamas health visa.

1 test for inter-island travel.

1 test on arrival in the UK.

The tests and mandatory health insurance added around £110pp on to the cost of the holiday. It was also stressful making sure everything was in place and keeping an eye in the news for last minute changes.

I’m actually quite lucky as I managed two trips abroad in 2020, one to Germany and one to Greece. Despite them being at the peak of the pandemic, the covid rules were significantly easier than this trip. Obviously, not everyone will do a trip as complicated as this, but it does go to show how much travel has changed because of covid.

If you are put off travelling because of the rules, my advice would be to research the entry and re-entry rules for where you want to go, stick to one country if you can and book your trip through a reputable tour operator that will keep you up to date with the latest rules and requirements.

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