Travel industry worker calls for a 'clear road map'
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When a harsh winter of lockdowns threatened the UK, Sarah Taylor, a travel PR specialist from London made the decision to travel to Spain for an extended stay with her parents who had retired in the country. The decision came after her business in the UK was left devastated by Covid. While Sarah flew out to Spain aware of the fact she would need to quarantine once she was ready to return to the UK, there were some additional expenses she did not initially bargain for.
It was during her stay that a swathe of new travel rules came into force, including the traffic light travel list.
As a result, Sarah found herself in an amber list country and facing mounting testing costs in order to return home to the UK.
“I flew out right on the cusp [of restrictions],” she explained.
“I flew out on December 19, and then the next day [the Government announced] London was in Tier 4.
“I thought ‘Thank God I’m in Spain.’ I only went out for Christmas, but I ended up staying because then Boris brought in all these rules in January and I just thought: ‘It’s ridiculous. There’s no point going back.’”
Sarah was able to work from home overseas, trying to maintain her UK-based business. Eventually, though, she knew she had to return to London.
“I came back on April 5 so I had to quarantine,” she explained. For Sarah, thanks to her ability to work remotely, quarantine itself wasn’t a problem.
“I self quarantined for the 10 days, which was absolutely fine. It doesn’t bother me as I work from home. I had a supermarket delivery. It wasn’t a big issue.”
However, what left Sarah reeling were the huge costs for Government-approved PCR tests.
For countries on the amber list at the time, the Government requires all passengers to provide a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of travel before being allowed to enter the UK.
Passengers are also required to book and pay for PCR tests to be taken on days two and day eight of their self-isolation.
However, these PCR tests must be from select providers – many of which have an eye-watering price tag attached.
Sarah explained: “I had to pay €200 euros in Spain [before flying to the UK] because it was on the cusp of Easter so they put the price up. How annoying is that?
“I thought: ‘Are you actually joking?'”
The costs didn’t end there though, as Sarah found out when she landed back on UK soil.
“So I paid, got back here, and to get even into the country there were two PCR tests that they made you forcibly buy for £250 pounds that were on the Government list.”
Although Sarah purchased the tests to be taken on the set-out days, she soon found the labs weren’t able to send out and process them fast enough.
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“They messed that up royally,” she explained.
“I self-quarantined and the Government called me every day.”
She continued: “You take a test on day two, which by the way, didn’t arrive.
“My test didn’t arrive till about day five, and [track and trace were asking] ‘have you taken the test yet it’s the law.’
“They were really threatening on the phone and I said: ‘Look, I work in travel, I get it but I can’t do it if they’ve messed up.’
“They said they were having this a lot. The PCR private companies were messing up and not sending stuff to people at the right time.”
Sarah did eventually get her day two test on day five of her quarantine, at which point the Track and Trace team offered her the option to pay for yet another test. This would be the “test to release” which, if negative, could end her quarantine early.
“They said to me: ‘You can do the extra test and pay some more money if you want to do another test on day five to test and release. And I said: ‘No, I’m not paying any more money.’
“I basically paid £450, I’m done.”
Though Sarah was able to navigate the rules, with a little help from her career within the travel industry, she notes it could be a “nightmare” for some people.
“I think it’s a total nightmare,” she said.
“I’m a professional in the industry and I was struggling. God help if you’ve got a 70-year-old person who’s not okay with an iPhone or smartphone. They’re not going to be able to do it, they’re not going to be able to travel unless they’ve got a son or daughter or someone younger helping them. It’s really quite technical.
“It’s not easy at all.”
It is this process – and the whopping costs associated – which are likely to put Sarah off travelling for a while, despite how safe she says actually travelling felt.
“I felt really safe,” she said.
“I sat on the inside. I didn’t move the whole flight. It was all spread out no one was next to me.”
She continued: “But do I want to pay the money to do it? No. And do I want to pay for all the PCR tests? No, I don’t.”
For others who need travel, though, she recommends doing your research and trusting your instinct about whether or not it is the right decision for you.
“I think basically go on to the FCDO website, it’s all there for you when you try and travel it’s all there and you can, you can follow it,” Sarah explained.
“I don’t really see the issue if you’re taking the precautions and you’re being safe,” she concluded.
“I think travel on an aeroplane is totally fine. If you keep yourself to yourself and I think it’s fine.”
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