International travel in the time of Covid – Forbes Advisor UK


News of an upcoming relaxation of international travel rules, Hope, signals the end of the toughest pandemic restrictions. But as Ashley Pearson reports, recent trips to and from the UK have often been fraught with complexity, cost and frustration. Here is his account of a summer vacation in Turkey which included an unexpected diversion in New York on the way home.

Our adventure began on July 11, barely 48 hours after the end of the school year. We took off for Antalya, Turkey, full of vim and vigor, desperate for some sun.

We have family there who haven’t seen us for over a year. If it hadn’t been, we would never have braved the myriad of tests and costs associated with international travel and we would have stayed like everyone else.

We almost didn’t get there. Our Turkish Airlines flights were abruptly canceled a week or so before our departure, without any explanation. Eventually, we were told that they had simply ceased operating out of Gatwick for the time being, due to restrictions.

We booked flights from Heathrow, but they were no longer direct. Instead of our four hour direct flight, we now had to go through Istanbul with a three hour layover.

Masked, we prepared for a long trip thanks to Turkish Airlines. Two days before our departure we found a walk-in PCR testing center near us and my husband, I and our 8 year old dutifully submitted in accordance with Turkish requirements.

The cost was £ 80 each – for three of us. They only sent us our results a few hours before we left for the airport. A stressful start! The plane was packed. We arrived in Turkey, just in time to see England lose to Italy at the Euro…

Aside from football, everything went well until news broke of the UK’s updated traffic light regime: Turkey remained steadfast red.

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Like many others, we thought that because Turkey’s infection rates were much lower than England’s, let alone several other ‘amber’ countries, it would turn orange in the ad. He does not have. We felt slightly nervous, but confident that would be the case on the next review, meaning we could return to the UK without needing 10 days of hotel quarantine.

On August 5th, we were getting ready to go home when it felt like the world was falling apart. Turkey was STILL red.

Despite predictions to the contrary, the British government had remained firm on its restrictions. This meant we had to find an alternative plan to avoid hotel quarantine in the UK, which we didn’t want to undertake with two young children. We needed an amber destination to spend ten days before returning home.

We chose New York. My sister and mother live there, and it was my home for a long time. The tickets were extraordinarily expensive (direct flights to New York from Istanbul cost almost $ 2,000 each – for a family of 4 it would cost $ 8,000).

We found some via Antalya – Frankfurt – Newark costing around $ 3,500 in total, including our return flight on United from Newark to London on August 30th. I immediately booked my UK husband’s ESTA visa which was accepted and secured by several other UK / US couples. We knew he wouldn’t have a problem as he was traveling with his immediate family.

Calculating the days we would need to shake off the remnants of a red country, we left Turkey on August 19 to be back in the UK, time to prepare for the new school year.

After a grueling 11 hour flight to Newark, we were whisked into the immigration back room behind passport control. The only explanation I managed to get from border officials was that, because we passed through Germany, my British / Turkish husband needed a special exemption to be allowed entry due to Covid.

We had all the PCR tests, we had all the passenger tracking forms, we had all the required documentation. We had valid and correct visas, and my kids and I are US citizens – and yet it was three hours in a back room with no electronics allowed (kids were crazy after the long flight and weren’t allowed tablets.)

We were masked, hot, stressed and scared. But luckily that was finally sorted out, and a few hours later we arrived at my sister’s skyscraper on the Upper East Side and devoured two huge New York City pizzas while gazing at the skyline. Things started to get a little better.

The state of mind of New York

New York itself was a dream. Although many stores remain closed and restaurants have not been able to reopen (I counted 36 shuttered windows on a cab ride that many blocks), New Yorkers have handled things with aplomb. Restaurants have cleverly set up marquises on the sidewalks, to comply with the outdoor dining rules, people go out at all times – it’s always buzzing.

When it came time to return to the UK I only felt fear for the trip ahead. I had only read that that morning about the five hour lines at Heathrow for families. Photos of exhausted travelers passing out did little to allay my fears.

Again, we did our pre-departure PCR test – just for us adults this time – at $ 100 each. We’ve completed our passenger locator forms for ALL of the FOUR of us, which, by the way, cannot be completed until you have a reference number to prove you ordered your test of the day 2 for your return home.

As we were both double-bitten we didn’t need a day 8 test – however my 8 year old daughter needed a day 2 test so we dutifully complied and ordered one from him. So it was £ 50 each – a total of £ 150. These costs are rising fast!

Our nighttime United Airlines flight with red eyes to London went well. Besides the rest of us, anyone over the age of 2 is required by US law to wear a mask at all times, and that was easier said than done. But we succeeded, even if we didn’t sleep a blink of an eye.

We came back to the UK broken and ran to the immigration area. There were queues but they weren’t terrible. Relief! We didn’t wait more than 45 minutes to be greeted by the friendliest immigration officer I have ever met. He checked our immunization records, looked at our papers and greeted us at home. Tears of joy.

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About Louis Miller

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