A first-hand experience as international travel reopened on 17 May 2021

As I write this, I am sat on a terrace in Portugal staring at the ocean and it is a lovely 26 degrees - this in itself makes the trip worthwhile and that feeling you get when the aeroplane doors open, and you feel the rush of heat is incomparable. After 14 months in the UK, I was very ready to get on the plane but as we all know, travel currently takes more organisation to ensure it goes smoothly and for that reason, I am very glad that I have travelled here with one of our members, Jackie Steadman from Travel Time World.

I am of course travelling for business but my experience around the testing processes and the journey is valid for any type of travel. So I want to share some insight I now have on the whole process in the hope it will be useful for our members when they are speaking to their customers.

Pre Travel, Testing & Paperwork

I booked my trip last minute so was unable to use the Randox home PCR test, and instead booked in for a test at a local pharmacy. I had the test at 2pm on Friday (ahead of travelling on Monday morning) and received my results on Saturday afternoon. The cost for this was £99. Jackie also completed a passenger locator form (PLF) for us. Both the test (with a negative result of course) and the PLF are required for entry into Portugal.

I then booked a lateral flow test with Qured at a cost of £39.99, ready for my return to the UK. I ordered this on Thursday, and it arrived on Saturday. I brought this out with me and was required to have a pre-booked online appointment with Qured to ensure the test was conducted correctly. The test was booked for last night (Monday evening) which is within the 72 hours of leaving Portugal timeframe the UK authorities require.

On the call they watched me do the swab, I then waited for 20 mins and sent a photo of the test results, along with a picture of my passport back to them. Within 30 minutes I received an e-mail confirmation of my negative result with a Fit to Fly Certificate that could be easily downloaded onto my iPhone to show anyone that needed to see it. The process was very easy, and I would happily recommend it.

Also, before leaving the UK, I ordered a day two test with Randox at our Advantage members discounted rate of £60, and this is ready and waiting for me at home to use when I return. On the Passenger Locator Form that needs to be completed to re-enter the UK, I had to detail the booking reference for this test. This is on the e-mail confirmation received from Randox and is the reference number that starts RANDX, in case you are helping customers find it for themselves.

  • Top tip – My EU passport recently expired so I now have a new British one. When I filled in the Passenger Locator Form, I struggled to find an option that was accepted relating to where my new passport was issued (‘Place of Issue’). The answer here in case you need to know has to be ‘British Citizen (GBR)’.

My Journey

I flew from Luton Airport with easyJet, and had to show confirmation of my negative test at check-in. Security was slow which was disappointing, especially considering how quiet the airport was, and is something that they will need to address once traffic increases, but once through we were able to visit some shops and have a coffee before flying. Masks must be worn at all times in the airport and not all retail outlets were open yet but other than this the experience felt relatively normal.

My flight was about 40% full and there was a trolley service on board. All the crew and the pilot were pleased to be flying again and we had a smooth journey to Faro.

Once in Faro, the arrivals process was quick and efficient. As you might expect for one of the first flights to arrive under the new traffic light system, we received a very warm welcome from the Portuguese tourism officials, they even gave us a small gift! I was through arrivals in less than 30 minutes and out of the airport ready to enjoy the rest of our trip.

The UK media were very keen to capture the experience of being permitted to travel internationally once again. I was fortunate to be able to contribute to this myself, and you can listen to the interview I gave to Radio 4's Today Programme before I flew, and watch the interview I gave to BBC News on Monday evening, where I talk more about my experience travelling here.

Myself and Jackie also spoke to Travel Weekly on a webinar recorded from Portfual which covers a lot of the above too, watch here.


My final round up on testing and returning to the UK

I landed back in Luton Wednesday evening with my digital paperwork in check. My passport, Passenger Locator Form (PLF) and Fit to Fly certificate were all checked by border staff. It took me 50 minutes to clear security which isn’t good enough and is a concern as passenger numbers start to increase. Home Office please take note – why weren’t there more desks open!!??

Because I had included my day two test booking reference (not order number) on my PLF I wasn’t asked for a copy of my booking with Randox, I would still recommend your traveller takes this with them just in case. The Home Office has said it is checking 100% of the paperwork. I was checked 100% twice – once at the gate on arrival at Faro and then again by passport control at Luton.

When travelling for business my PA would normally book everything for me. I would simply turn up at the airport and only then look at my travel wallet and itinerary. What became clear to me from this trip is that until travel wallets are ready to host all of the documentation required to travel, it will be critical for anyone travelling on business to be really clear on what they need to show both on arrival and departure.

It is likely that travelling back from an amber country may also include further detailed checks. For example, on my trip, UK passport control was happy with a screenshot of my PLF and Fit to Fly certificate. It’s quite possible that when travelling back from an amber country they will want to see the actual downloaded file.

My Randox day two test was already waiting for me when I got home from the airport and has to be submitted within two days of arriving back in the UK. Please note that the day after you land is counted as day one. I did my day two test on day one (Wednesday).

As I already knew I don’t have a Randox or DX station close to where I live I opted to use Royal Mail Guaranteed Next Day Delivery Service to return my test, which cost me about £7. I popped the box into a jiffy bag and as the sample must arrive within 72 hours of taking it, and in the interest of time, I literally did the test and set off to the post office straight away. Please note if using the Royal Mail Guaranteed Next Day Delivery Service is not available if sent on a Friday.

Just a couple of things on the test itself:

  • You need to follow the instructions closely. It’s a little different to the NHS lateral flow ones we have been used to doing. You must register the kit otherwise you will not get your results.
  • Registration requires your return to the UK flight number, passport details and other basic personal information.
  • It took me about 10 minutes to complete.

So, with my test results sent off – that’s it. I just needed to wait for my results. According to the paperwork I would receive a text or e-mail when my sample arrived at the lab and then it would be processed within 24 hours.

On Friday, I received confirmation from Randox that my test had been received and was being processed by their laboratory, giving me peace of mind. And finally, at 4pm (just outside of 24hrs since I posted my tests) I have received an email with my test results – and yes, they were negative!


Julia Lo Bue-Said

CEO of Advantage Travel Partnership

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