Coincidentally on the day the UK Government simplifies its long running travel restrictions I begin my first business trip since March 2020. Here are a few observations..
- Documentation requirements are still complicated to work out bouncing between airline and government websites – there is a real opportunity here for someone to consolidate this around a single portal / app ? For my trip to Riga, Latvia I needed a paper version of my COVID status from the NHS and to complete an online questionnaire on the Latvian Government website which produces a barcode which must be shown as passport control and before boarding to the airline staff.
- Heathrow Terminal Three has only relatively recently reopened and is still quiet, with a number of retail and food outlets still closed. As a frequent flyer unfortunately the best airlines lounges at Heathrow namely the Cathay Pacific and Qantas lounges are amongst them – I know first world problem !!
- Masks are mandatory everywhere and are I guess destined to become part of the theatre of air travel for the foreseeable future!
- Flight loads are highly variable, my very early morning departure was no more than 20% full..
- Testing – As of today I only need to take a Day 2 test on my arrival back in the UK, no test is required to enter Latvia. I have booked a test ready to complete my passenger locator form so lets see how well that works
- Covid Passports are a thing in Riga! Most restaurants and bars expect to be able to scan a bar code containing your vaccination status. If you are from a non EU member state or don’t have the EU app this requires a little explanation but it not usually a problem. The NHS QR code (even the travel version) is not compatible with the system, but showing the NHS app and your status in particular the date of your second dose mostly works..
And then along comes the Home Office
It was all going so well and then along comes the departmental trabant of the British Government, The Home Office.
To return into the UK I need to fill out a “Passenger Location Form”, I remember doing this last year travelling for pleasure and it seemed straightforward, this time however…
The site on gov.uk seemed overloaded when I used it and a couple of attempts to upload my vaccination status via the QR-Code failed, not sure what the problem was but I think the web based QR code reader service was broken.
An important step here is to provide the reference code for your Day 2 PCR test, I used qured but of course there are many alternatives available.
Eventually I managed to complete the form and downloaded the pdf version of the document immediately. I would strongly recommend you do this and save it on your phone, especially if you have an iPhone as the iOS mail app as a long standing bug preventing it displaying some attached pdf documents (you will see an attachment paperclip but won’t be able to open it!)
- The check of your passenger locator forms seems to have been made a responsibility of the airlines ( Not a competence of Border force aka The Home Office once again ) as a result I had to show my documentation both on check in and on boarding. That is both my Covid vaccination status and my completed passenger locator form.
- On arrival at Heathrow the e-Gates were operating at I would say 40% capacity, it was a quiet time so only minimal queuing was required. My Passport was scanned as usual and the gates opened. So was there magic of joined up government connecting my completed form to my passport – I’ll will leave you to be the judge of that..