The travel correspondent of The Independent is normally to be found in his clifftop villa in Sorrento, gazing philosophically across the Bay of Naples while sipping an energising Campari soda. But he took an hour out of his busy day to answer your travel questions. These are some of the questions and answers.
Traffic light changes
Q: Do you think Portugal will stay on amber list? Do you think government will scrap overpriced Covid tests for travel?
A: I am pretty sure that Portugal will go no worse than amber.
At present I can see no appetite in government for reducing the onerous and expensive testing requirement. On my most recent trip to Portugal, I spent six times more on testing than I did on flights.
Q: If new rules come into place until Monday, which is when I am due to fly back, is there any tolerance on the new rules if you are travelling on the day it changes?
A: So frequent and varied have the changes to the traffic light scheme been, that I cannot possibly predict accurately when changes could take effect. However the definite trend over the past few tranches of change has been for the new rules to take affect at 4 am on Monday mornings. There is exactly no tolerance on new rules if you arrive one minute after the change.
Q: We are booked to fly to Sicily on September 1. At the moment Italy is on the amber list and if we were to go, we would have no travel insurance as travel would be against government advice. We would also have to quarantine in Sicily for five days. The there are the tests, I am not sure how expensive they would be. Should we try to arrange flights and the one hotel we have booked for next year?
A: “The FCDO advises against all but essential travel to the whole of Italy based on the current assessment of Covid-19 risks.” That is clearly ridiculous and may well change by the end of August. It could even be that Italy goes on to the green list.
I also think it is more likely than not, that the Italian five-day quarantine rule for arrivals from the UK will be rescinded on 30 August. So don’t do anything yet.
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Q: Do you think we would be lucky enough that if France went back to the amber list it would start from midnight Thursday ready for the weekend travellers?
A: Wouldn’t that be wonderful, Margaret? Unfortunately I don’t expect that to happen, and Monday 4am is my guess.
Just to recap: France finds itself in a specially created category of its own, “amber plus,” entirely because of a meeting between the UK prime minister and health secretary on 16 July. Even vaccinated travellers are required to self-isolate after a journey from France.
We now know that the mandatory quarantine rule is due to the presence of the Beta variant on the island of Réunion, 5,800 miles from Paris – which, bizarrely, is still regular amber and therefore an excellent place to “launder” the effects of a trip to France.
Such weirdness gives me hope that the “amber plus” status cannot possibly be sustained, and will be lifted in Thursday’s announcement on the next “traffic light” category changes.
Do remember that this applies only for people coming back into the UK, and therefore if France does go to “normal amber” on Thursday, you could set off and have a wonderful weekend (assuming you are double jabbed for entry to France) and come back any time from 4am on Monday or thereafter.
All speculation at this stage, of course.
Q: I have a question about France and the possible move to amber list that is being talked about . We live in the Alps and are desperate to get back to see parents. If I fly on Sunday and the possible change to remove the 10-day quarantine comes in from Monday, would we just need to quarantine for one day or would they make us do longer?
Also, if we fly in to Manchester and then travel to Scotland, where do we need to do the two day test as Scotland has a specific provider you have to use?
A: Once you start quarantine you must finish it – or leave the country again (eg on a quick side trip to Ireland). Scottish rules apply if that’s your final destination.
Q: Any idea why there were discussions of putting Italy on the amber watch list? The level of infections there is very low and there is almost no Beta variant.
A: I have literally no idea why ministers/officials/journalists are interested in drumming up disquiet over Italy.
The one problem there as far as I am concerned is the mandatory five-day quarantine required of arrivals from the UK.
Q: How likely is it that this time next week I’ll be heading south on a French autoroute?
A: That’s entirely up to you – if you are fully jabbed. I’m 80 per cent confident that France will lose its completely unjustified amber plus status on Thursday, taking effect for arrivals on Monday 9 August.
Q: Mystic Simon – will Spain go to “red” in this week’s update or stay amber now the “plus” list looks like it is no longer?
A: The variant that the government has scuppered this morning is the amber watchlist, the overture to red listing.
That was always just an empty threat: Spain cannot go red list in August, because the hotel quarantine system will not be able to cope.
But there is no guarantee that Spain (or parts thereof) might not go onto the amber plus list, that category of mandatory quarantine – regardless of vaccination status – currently occupied only by France.
Q: Assuming they bring in the mooted amber watch list, how much notice can we expect if they move a country to the red list? We are due to go to Mallorca this weekend (it was on the green list when we booked in June) returning on Saturday 14 August. What is the earliest date they could impose the red list?
A: The amber watchlist is not going to happen. It was leaked and has now been squashed as a concept. As mentioned above Spain will not go onto the red list.
Q: I am due to be getting married in Spain on the 10 September. The wedding is only viable if Spain is amber. What do you think the likelihood of travel in September will be at the current rate?
A: Congratulations on your impending marriage. I believe that by mid September, infection rates across Europe including Spain will have come down and the degree of restrictions will be reasonable.
Q: I have a flight booked to Spain next week. My passport and tickets are in my maiden name, but my Covid passport is in my married name. Will Spain accept if I take my marriage certificate and driving licence as extra ID?
A: Sorry you are in this very difficult position. Many other people are, too. You could try getting your Covid passport switched to your maiden name. Otherwise certainly take your marriage certificate, but the sure way to avoid problems is to get a lamp test before departure to Spain.
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Q: My daughter took a test 72 hours before the landing time in Spain and the results didn’t arrive back in time for her to travel. She now has a day 2, 5 and 8 test she has no use for. What can she do?
A: I fear that she, like many people, booked a PCR test rather than a faster (and cheaper) Lamp test. She can try to apply for a refund on the pre-booked tests – for future reference I very strongly recommend not booking any UK return tests until you are abroad.
Q: I’m flying from Germany on Saturday. Double vaccinated, so need to take a test on day two. Is that a PCR test or lateral flow?
A: You need to test – any test will do – before you are allowed on the plane to the UK, then take a test on the day you arrive or one of the two following days. That one must be PCR.
Q: I have a flight booked to Athens in September. The only thing putting me off, and maybe considering re-scheduling my flight for next year, is the testing regime, especially the potential stress of trying to get a test up to 72 hours before returning to the UK. I am worrying about the possible difficulties of getting a result on time and possible difficulties with the technology, and therefore ruining my time in Greece.
I have no idea whether people are having real problems with this, or not, and do you see this continuing far into the future?
A: Assuming you are coming back from Athens airport, there is zero problem getting a test before you fly back to the UK. There are several locations in the airport, some open 24 hours, where you can get a simple lateral flow test with the results in about half-an-hour.
Q: If I return from an amber list country (double vaccinated) I have to test by day two of my return.
Is the same true of foreign nationals from USA and EU that are now allowed to travel here? If not then that doesn’t seem right - are there plans to change that if so?
A: Anyone arriving from outside the UK from any country other than Ireland must take a PCR test on the day of arrival or one of the two following days. That applies regardless of nationality.
Q: Residents of the EU and US can avoid quarantine if they’ve had both vaccines. Does this include Turkish residents? My husband is a national and lives there and has had his Pfizer jabs there, hoping he can come here in a few months.
A: Sadly quarantine exemption works only for jabs administered in the European Union and countries such as Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and so on.
Turkey is not included. Sorry.
Q: We are due to go to Portugal tomorrow. I heard this morning that Portugal are not accepting the Indian AstraZeneca vaccine. My husband had this as his first dose. Is there any truth to this?
A: I have seen this rumour but so far my request to the Portuguese authorities has not been responded to. The only confirmed cases of people being turned away because they have an Indian-made AstraZeneca jab have been for a very short time in Malta.
Personally, as a proud possessor of an Indian jab, I have no worries about facing problems going into Portugal.
Q: Is there a list simple of EU countries in which we can travel to from the UK (basically who is letting us in)? I have Hungary booked in a few weeks but they don’t seem to be allowing us in.
A: Every country in the European Union is sovereign about the rules they put in place on coronavirus. While a number of sites do a good job at trying to keep tabs across Europe, things change so fast that I always advise starting with the Foreign Office advice for your destination and double-checking that with the country concerned.
Q: I’m looking to holiday in Cyprus or Portugal in the first two weeks of September. Any chance they may be on “green” by then.
A: They may be, with Portugal more likely. But if you are double jabbed then amber has the same effect as green.
Q: Both double jabbed, want to visit Rhodes in October. Should we book now as prices reasonable or wait until the announcement Thursday or leave until much nearer, although prices could potentially rise. Unsure best action, any advice please?
A: The only possible reason I would book a trip to a Greek island now (or any time in August) for October would be if I wanted to travel during the half-term for England and Wales, which for most schools is the final week of the month, though for some it is the third week.
I can see no benefit in booking in advance for Rhodes or anywhere else in the Mediterranean for the first half of October. While I’d love to be there (and hope I will be), there will be plenty of capacity.
Q: For international travel to countries accepting UK travellers who have been double vaccinated, the government advises “You should check that the name on your passport matches how it is displayed by NHS Covid Pass at least 2 weeks before you travel.”
Most UK passport holders have their middle name on their passport, but Covid Passes seem to omit the middle name (and it appears to be very difficult to get it changed!).
How likely do you think it may be that this disparity between the advice issued and reality, will cause any issues with airlines when attempting to board an outbound flight?
A: I don’t believe that a missing middle name will cause any problems; your first and last name and date of birth should be quite sufficient proof of identity. The real problem is for people whose NHS name is different from their passport name. If that is due to marriage, it’s really important to take your wedding certificate.
Q: We’d like to travel to the Philippines this winter anytime from November through to March. What do you see happening in this space?
A: I am not planning any long-haul eastbound travel for the foreseeable future, I’m afraid. Huge uncertainties and tricky rules.
Q: I am due to travel to Colombia on 1 November 2021, what are the chances that it could be removed from the red list – or for that matter any other South American country?
A: I jolly well hope that much of South America will be off the red list by then. But I’m not booking for Bogota or anywhere else just yet.
Q: When are America going to open the borders so we can travel there?
A: This week’s easing of restrictions by the UK means that half the problem is solved: vaccinated Americans can come in without quarantine. But Joe Biden is no hurry to rescind the presidential proclamation banning us. Late September, perhaps.
Q: Lots of rumours about India becoming amber or watchlist. Any hopes on this? The cases are lower, the government is talking and its unfair on students and vaccinated individuals when delta is dominant in both.
France and some other EU countries allow quarantine-free travel for vaccinated Indians.
A: It seems the further a destination is from the UK, the less interest the government here seems to have. Clearly very strong cultural and family links with India, but the political reality – that the UK government messed up by leaving India off the red list for so long – means that India is well down the list.
Q: What do you think will happen with the hub airports (Doha and Dubai) and their red list status?
A: Doha/Qatar should be amber; UAE has questions to answer about reliability of data. Both were placed on the red list because of the high level of connecting travellers through their hubs.
Q: Dubai has no reason to be on the red list as they have one of the most highest vaccination rate in the world. Do you believe the UAE would be removed from the red list in this review?
A: As mentioned above, the UAE was originally placed on the red list because lots of people change planes in Dubai. That is not going to change any time soon, and therefore a big U-turn would be required for the UAE to escape the red list.
Q: What’s happening to trains going from London to Manchester over the Bank Holiday weekend? Why can’t I buy a ticket? Have they sold out?
A: Avanti West Coast, which runs trains on the West Coast main line, including between London Euston and Manchester Piccadilly, is not having a great August.
Until 30 August, the train operator says: “Avanti West Coast timetables are amended to manage staff shortages and ensure a reliable service, so you can travel with confidence.”
Instead of the usual three trains per hour, there is “one train per hour to Manchester calling at Milton Keynes, Stoke-on-Trent, Macclesfield and Stockport” – plus extra trains “on Fridays during selected hours between 10am and 6pm”.
Avanti West Coast says: “We strongly recommend you book a place on your preferred service and only travel on that train.”
But as you have found, that is not possible – because engineering work is rearing its disruptive head. While rail use is much higher at weekends than during the week, big rail projects are still locked into the idea that weekends are quieter.
In particular, August bank holiday has long been regarded as a great time to carry out engineering work because passenger numbers are so low. Almost unbelievably, the London-Manchester timetable between Saturday 28 and Monday 30 August will not be revealed until 20 August.
A spokesperson for Network Rail told me things may change by next summer: “Travel patterns have obviously shifted over the past year or so and we will carefully monitor how this evolves as restrictions ease and more people return to workplaces. Our approach to scheduling works will be based on this longer-term picture.”
Until then, the best I can advise is that you sign up for an Advance travel alert with Avanti West Coast.
“Tell us when you’re looking to travel and we’ll email you on the day Advance tickets go on sale,” says the train operator.