Return of U.K. Air Travel Is Slowed by Demand for Covid Test
(Bloomberg) -- Air travel from Britain to France resumed after a two-day halt, though eligibility restrictions and a new Covid-19 testing requirement limited the number of people able to board.
A British Airways flight to Paris departed at 9:24 a.m. from London Heathrow on Wednesday, followed by one to Nice, according to the airport’s website. Both were delayed, and an earlier Air France departure was canceled, reflecting the challenges facing airlines and travelers alike.
With two days to go before Christmas, trips to most other European countries remained blocked. Determined travelers may be able to navigate a maze of country rules -- Germany, for example, bars direct air travel, though its citizens can get home with a stop in France. More than 40 nations worldwide halted travel with the U.K. in the run-up to the busy holiday, after a new strain of highly contagious coronavirus began to spread in and around London.
Entry into France remains limited mainly to nationals of the European Union, British residents of the EU or those with an essential need to travel, according to the website of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A spokesman for the U.K. Department for Transport said that mostly means French people returning home for Christmas.
France is requiring travelers from the U.K. to take either a PCR test, which can take 24 hours or more to produce a result, or an antigen tests from an approved list, which give faster results but are less accurate.
Deutsche Lufthansa AG won’t be carrying passengers on its half dozen or so daily services from Britain to Germany for another week, with the planes transporting only cargo, a spokesman said.
Those citizens desperate to get home can only do so by traveling via another country such as France, for which they’ll need the Covid test, and then making their way onwards, the German embassy in London said on its website.
Even after Jan. 1, flights will carry only German citizens and residents for a further five days, Lufthansa said. U.K.-bound flights are meanwhile operating as normal and are “well-booked” with Britons flying home for the holidays, the spokesman said.
U.K. residents are already severely limited in their ability to travel, with a Tier 4 lockdown introduced in London and southeast England on Saturday set to be extended to the rest of England on Dec. 26 according to some news reports. Scotland and Wales are imposing similar measures.
In the first three hours of operation on Wednesday, 17 flights from Heathrow had been canceled, mostly to European countries. Service continued to a handful of EU destinations like Madrid, as Spain was one of the few countries from the bloc to remain open.
Testing is emerging as a common requirement for flight, though the abrupt change is putting a strain on passengers and testing companies.
“Our testing facilities at Gatwick and Heathrow have been inundated by the number of people who want a test in a very tight timeframe,” said Denis Kinane, chief medical officer at ExpressTest, which conducts PCR tests for travelers. “While we aim to get the results by the next day, we’ve been inundated by passengers looking to get a test just a day before they’re due to fly.”
Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. plans to make the assessments compulsory on trips to its five U.S. destinations from Christmas Eve, after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he wanted people headed from Britain to John F. Kennedy International Airport to be checked.
Virgin spokesman Andrew Scott said people can take tests up to 72 hours before flying, but that rapid checks taking 80 minutes will be offered at Heathrow through Collinson Group for those unaware of the situation. Collinson also offers booked tests at London Stansted, London City, East Midlands and Manchester airports.
Eurostar International Ltd. passenger trains were also getting started, linking central London with France via the Channel Tunnel. The company said people bound for Paris and Lille will only be allowed to travel with a negative Covid result.
The company added on its website that trains to Brussels are limited to Belgian citizens and residents, with few limited exceptions, and that people mustn’t travel there to catch onward trains to other countries. Only essential travel is permitted to Amsterdam.
A Eurostar spokesman said it was inevitable some people would be unaware of the testing requirements and be turned away at a French border point at London’s St Pancras station.
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