Here’s what it’s like to fly to London as an American right now
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As of 4 a.m. today, vaccinated Americans are allowed to freely enter the United Kingdom sans quarantine, and I was one of the first to enter under the new rules.
U.S. travelers must possess proof of vaccination and proof of a negative COVID-19 test to enter the U.K. without the up-to-now standard 10-day quarantine. The entry process into London was not much different than pre-COVID-19 visits and didn’t take nearly as long as I was expecting.
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UK entry requirements
Travelers will be considered fully vaccinated if they have received their final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days prior to arrival in the U.K. (Or their single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine).
Because the U.K. considers the U.S. to be an “amber” country, U.S. travelers must complete the following steps before traveling to England.
- Take a COVID-19 test within three days of departure, either a PCR or antigen test with at least 97% specificity and 80% sensitivity.
- On Friday, July 29, two days before my scheduled departure to London, I took a PCR test through Curative. When I got there, I was told that results could not be guaranteed within one to two days, so I ended up taking a second test on Friday through GenePace, with a results turnaround of 16 hours or less, just in case.
- Book and pay for a COVID-19 test to be taken on day two of your arrival in England. I booked mine through Qured, a testing provider suggested by the U.K. government. The test will be mailed to me by day two, at which point I will take the test and submit the results. (Be sure to look out for my story documenting that process in the coming days.)
- Complete an online passenger locator form.
You must bring documentation of these three requirements with you, along with your Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-issued white vaccination card. I printed out all of my documents, but you could show proof of negative COVID-19 tests results via email as well.
My experience flying British Airways to London
To compensate for any COVID-19 protocols, I arrived almost three hours before my flight out of D.C.’s Dulles International Airport (IAD). Upon arrival at IAD, I initially bypassed the British Airways check-in because I wasn’t checking a bag and wanted to finish my in-person Clear enrollment. After doing so, I double-checked to see if I needed to stop at check-in and was told by BA that they needed to verify my pre-departure documents, either via check-in agents or at the gate itself after passing through security. I elected to check in at the gate, which took me about 20 minutes in total. The check-in agent verified my negative COVID-19 test, passenger locator form and vaccination card.
The flight was fine overall. I appreciated the extra legroom and space in the premium economy cabin. The flight attendants were very nice. My food order was incorrect and they were incredibly apologetic and offered me snacks. I’ll have much more on my BA flight tomorrow.
Upon arriving at London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) around 10:30 a.m. on Aug. 2, all arriving passengers were directed to U.K. borders and customs agents. That is the same as pre-coronavirus. The only difference is that we were told to have our pre-departure documents (passenger locator form, results of negative COVID-19 test and vaccination card) ready for verification at the border, in the same manner that they were checked before departing the U.S.
While in line, border agents randomly selected some of us, myself included, to use eGates, which is an automated self-service option that uses facial recognition to confirm your identity against your passport. This expedited the process and probably saved me at least 10 minutes. From there, I was free to go.
Although it was quite stressful having to find testing options both in the U.S. and London, my experience preparing for my trip would have likely been less frantic had it not been a last-minute trip for work. For those who are planning travel in advance, note there are a variety of at-home test options that you could have delivered before leaving for the U.K. and take with you in your suitcase. American Airlines offers a few suggestions for packable test kits.
All of that is to say that it can be done, as I did, in the course of two days, so do not fret. It’s all part of pandemic travel, which looks like it’s here to stay for a little while longer.
Featured photo by Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images.
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