Flying after Coronavirus Lockdown: What You Need to Know Worried about Coronavirus and travel insurance? Find out more

Flying after coronavirus lockdown: What do you need to know?

Posted on January 29, 2021 by Kelly Johnstone
Woman walking through airport wearing face mask

Travel certainly looks a little different to what we’re used to.

Airports and airlines have changed the way they work to help keep us and their staff as safe as possible. It’s important that you’re aware of the changes to air travel before you set off so you’re prepared for your journey.

Where can you travel to?

Currently, no travel is allowed to or from the UK under the latest lockdown restrictions. In order to fly, you’ll need a legally-permitted reason. The government is also putting in a new measure that requires a declaration of your ‘valid reason for travel’, which could see you sent home or fined if it’s not accepted. Keep an eye on the government’s travel advice page for all the latest updates.

The ‘travel corridors’ that allowed quarantine-free travel between the UK and a short list of countries have been suspended indefinitely. Once the lockdown restrictions are lifted, it’s possible the list could be reinstated, so keep an eye on the travel corridor page.

The FCDO website is also regularly updated with relevant advice for travel. However, keep in mind, this advice is different to government-enforced travel bans.

The vaccine rollout provides some hope for international travel in 2021, but at the moment trips are off the cards. For more information, read about when you may be able to travel and where you can go on holiday.

Follow government guidelines

While the UK is in national lockdown, restricting travel until at least 15 February, other countries will have specific guidelines in place. Once travel restrictions are lifted in the UK, you’ll need to be aware of the measures being used in your destination, which you can read up on the government’s foreign travel advice page.

For example, travellers from the UK are not being allowed into other countries in response to the new variant first detected here.

Mandatory negative testing

The government has introduced guidelines that mean arrivals into the UK need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within the 72 hours prior to departure. If you fail to do so, you might not be allowed to board. Children under 11 don’t need to be tested to travel, though.

There are also certain criteria that need to be met for the government to accept your test result. You’ll need to show evidence of a test with at least 97% specificity and 80% sensitivity, according to the BBC. This means that you have the option to use PCR tests, lateral flow tests, and Lamp tests.

Most countries internationally will also require you to test negative before travelling there, with the US and France recently updating their guidelines.

When you arrive in the UK, you’ll need to fill out a passenger locator form that provides the government with the details of where you’re self-isolating. Depending on where you arrive from, you might also need to pay to quarantine in a government-approved hotel.

Entering the airport

For the time being, only those that are travelling will be allowed to enter the airport. This is to reduce the number of people in the airport. So if you’re looking to wave somebody off, or pick them up on arrival, you won’t be able to do this for now.

The only exception to this is if you’re helping somebody to reach special assistance. In this case, only one extra person can enter the airport to help.

Special assistance

Special assistance in airports will still be available for those that need it. Wheelchairs will be thoroughly cleaned after each use and those assisting will be wearing protective clothing.

Any help will still need to be pre-booked with the airport.

Going through security

Restrictions on liquids remain the same with the 100ml limit, so it’s still advised to have pre-sorted your items before you go through security.

The trays used for your baggage during security checks will be thoroughly cleaned and clear screens will be used during bag searches to protect passengers and staff.

Some airports, such as Manchester Airport have introduced free pre-booked security slots. Here you’ll enter a dedicated lane to help manage the flow of people through security, as it can cause a bottleneck of people at the best of times.

Temperature checks

Most UK airports are trialling body screening temperature technology to check people’s temperature automatically.

If you have a temperature or symptoms of COVID-19, then you will be refused entry to the airport and won’t be able to fly. Even if you think you only have a cold, you won’t be able to fly if you have a temperature. Airports are advising that you check your temperature before you get to the airport to avoid disappointment.

If you have any symptoms of COVID-19, then government advice is to stay at home and self-isolate.

Face coverings

Anyone aged six or over will need to wear a face covering in the airport and on the aeroplane. You will need to take your own, but airports will have some available if you forget.

Airlines are advising that you change your face mask every four hours, so you’ll need to make sure you have enough for your complete journey.

You will be asked to remove your face mask for security checks but should only do so when asked.

If you can’t wear a face covering for medical reasons, then you should discuss this with your doctor and airline. They will be able to give you specific advice as to your next steps and any paperwork that you might need to take with you.

Airport testing

With a growing number of countries classifying the UK as being ‘at risk’, airport testing may offer a solution to help people travelling to destinations where a negative result is required on arrival.

London Heathrow offers passengers flying to Hong Kong the option of paying for a Covid test before they travel. The rapid saliva swab, known as a Lamp (Loop-mediated Isothermal Amplification) test, is different to the PCR test used by the NHS and offers passengers results in just one hour.

The Lamp test is not sufficient for some destinations (Cyprus, the Bahamas, Bermuda) who prefer the laboratory analysed PCR test, but it is hoped that countries will start to accept other tests which give quicker results.

Keeping things clean

Airports will have installed hand sanitiser stations throughout the building to keep your hands clean. You may also wish to take your own hand sanitiser to use during your flight.

It’s advised that you use these hand sanitiser stations often as well as thoroughly washing your hands when you can.

As well as keeping your hands clean, airport staff will be regularly cleaning communal areas using advanced cleaning technology.

Touchless experience

Where possible, you might be asked to use airline apps and contactless payments to minimise contact between people. This includes minimising face-to-face contact between check-in staff and passengers by further promoting the use of online check-in and self-service check-in with bag drop facilities.

If you take a water bottle with you to refill with water, then some airports like London Heathrow have also introduced hands free water stations to replace water fountains.

Social distancing

Where possible you’ll be asked to continue to social distance around the airport. To help, airports should have clear signage and may have introduced one way systems and changed their seating to help people distance while still allowing families to sit together.

Baggage

Carry on luggage restrictions may change depending on your airline and where you’re travelling to.

Airlines such as easyJet have said that you will need to stow your own cabin baggage and close the overhead lockers yourself. If you are travelling with larger luggage where you might struggle to do this, you might be encouraged by your airline to check these into the hold instead.

When it comes to reuniting with your luggage from the hold you’ll be asked again to maintain social distancing and to only remove your own luggage from the conveyor belt.

Air quality and cleanliness on the aircraft

Most aircrafts, including those used by Ryanair, easyJet, Jet2 and BA are fitted with advanced air filtration technology. This technology is also used in hospitals and filters the air for impurities throughout your journey.

Planes will be thoroughly disinfected every day and cleaned between flights. Most airlines have released information on their cleaning processes to help give you peace of mind over the cleanliness of the plane.

If you’re concerned, you might feel more comfortable taking some disinfectant wipes with you to clean the area you’re using and the toilet before you use it.

Passports

If your passport is due to expire soon then MoneySavingExpert advises that you should renew it as soon as possible. This is because renewals may take longer at this time.

Following Brexit on 1 January 2021, new rules were put in place that mean you need to have six months remaining on your passport and it must be less than 10 years old (even if it has over six months left) at the time of travel to visit countries in the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.

Brexit also saw the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) be replaced by the Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), which you’ll need to keep in mind. Here, you can find out what you need to know about the EHIC to GHIC change.

When presenting your passport to a member of staff, it will need to be open on the correct page ready for airline staff to check.

You’ll also be asked to scan your own boarding pass to minimise contact.

In-flight services

To reduce contact between crew members and passengers you may find that airlines reduce some of their in-flight services.

This may include limiting the food and drink service as well as non-essential services such as duty free. If such services are available, only contactless payment will be taken for these.

The same guidance on taking food with you apply, so you might be able to take your own food with you for the flight

Toilets on planes

All passengers will be encouraged to remain in their seats where possible. Queuing for the toilet on planes will not be allowed as there isn’t enough space to socially distance.

Instead, you might be asked to call your flight attendant who will let you know when you can leave your seat.

If you have medical problems and need to go to the toilet as a priority then you’ll need to make your flight attendants aware of this.

Arriving at your destination

When you arrive at your destination, there will be some guidelines to follow and these can differ between countries, so keep an eye on the government’s travel advice page for up-to-date and relevant guidance.

In the UK, for example, you’ll be required to self-isolate for 10 days when you arrive, even if you tested negative before flying. You might also be required to quarantine in a government-provided hotel, at your cost, if you’re travelling from a country on the ‘banned list’. This list of countries and the related guidelines change often, so make sure to keep up to date with the government’s latest advice.

You’re allowed to pay for a test once you arrive in the UK, taking part in the Test to Release scheme, which might help you cut your self-isolation time short.

If you develop symptoms or test positive during your self-isolation, you might have to self-isolate longer.

Will my holiday be covered by travel insurance?

To be covered by your travel insurance, you’ll need to be travelling in line with the government’s lockdown restrictions to a place that the FCDO have not advised against travel to. Your policy will only be valid if it’s safe for you to go.

At the moment, we can only cover policies for travel on or later than 1 March. You can still purchase a new Single Trip or Annual Travel Insurance policy, as long as it’s to cover travel on or after 1 March. Current Annual Travel Insurance policies can’t be used for travel until 1 March, either.

Once government restrictions have been lifted, if you need to travel to Europe when the FCDO advises against ‘all but essential’ travel, you need to add our FCDO Travel Advice Extension to your policy to be covered.

For more information, see our latest guidance on how we’re helping people if their holiday is affected by coronavirus or find out more about buying a travel insurance policy that can cover coronavirus for medical emergencies and repatriation.

Kelly Johnstone

by Kelly Johnstone

Kelly Johnstone is Staysure’s Head of Content. She’s known for a love of tea and shares data-driven and breaking travel news.