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Flying in The Next Normal: the golden rules you need to know

There has always been an element of stress to any international travelling experience, whether it’s forgetting to pack your phone charger, getting stuck in traffic on the way to the airport or leaving your passport on the table at the over-priced terminal coffee shop.

And I anticipated my stress level to crank up a notch as I prepared for my first fam trip in more than a year, heading to Madrid to participate in the Madrid Agency Forum with buyers from the UK, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Italy.

But first I had to get there, navigating the world of international air travel for the first time in 18 months. What does flying involve in 2021? One thing’s for sure, it isn’t just about remembering to drink all your water before going through security anymore.

Participants of the 2021 Madrid Agency Forum

Before you leave:

The Madrid Convention Bureau explained clearly what paperwork and processes I needed to complete before arriving in Madrid. These included:

  • The Spanish Health Passenger Locator Form – downloadable as an app via The App Store and on Play Store
  • Proof of double vaccination at least 14 days prior to departure. For people travelling from England and Wales to Spain, the NHS Covid Passport provides this proof via a QR code certificate on the NHS App. Those travelling from Scotland can download a QR code or request an NHS letter. There is a similar Covid certificate for Northern Ireland residents.

A link to the Spanish Travel Health App was shared a few days before departure for travellers to gather the correct information and fill out the form. While all locator forms vary, the Spanish form required information including:

  • The flight number
  • Date and time of departure
  • Origin of departure
  • Address(es) of where you’re staying for the duration of the trip
  • The date you received your full vaccine
  • What vaccination you received
  • Passport number

The app is sensitive and at times, frustrating to use, but take your time while filling in the details, check spellings, dates, names and numbers. TIP: it’s also advisable to fill this form out before you get to the check-in desk as not all airport staff will be as helpful as the patient gentleman who held my hand through the process.

Once this form is completed, the app will provide you with a QR code to show to the Spanish authorities upon arrival. TIP: take a screenshot of this QR code or print it out and keep it somewhere easily accessible as you may not have easy access to your emails depending on your network provider.

When you arrive

Brexit has also hugely affected the efficiency with which UK passport holders can travel. We can no longer travel through the EU biometric gates, instead, we find ourselves in the ‘All other passports’ queues which, in my recent experience, has a longer wait time.

This is something to bear in mind if members of the group are travelling on different passports as some will get through and to baggage reclaim quicker than others. TIP: advise a ‘meet point’ in advance of landing, whether this is at the baggage carousel or somewhere easily identifiable.

After passport control at Madrid airport, but before baggage reclaim, there was an efficiently run passenger locator QR code checkpoint. TIP: remind your delegates they will need to show this QR code, so have it handy when you disembark the aircraft.

While in Spain:

Wearing masks indoors in Madrid remains compulsory and groups are limited to a maximum of six people indoors and eight people outdoors. TIP: Keep this rule in mind when booking lunch and dinner venues.

The night-time curfew has been lifted but social distancing rules are still in place. The maximum capacity is 50 per cent in most enclosed spaces, such as hotels and restaurants, and 75 per cent in cultural venues, like museums, monuments and theatres outdoor cafés.

Much like in the UK, there are hand sanitising stations across the city, including in shops and restaurants.

Returning to the UK:

Requirements for returning to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland from abroad vary on factors such as what list – Green, Amber or Red – the country you’re coming from is on.

Spain is currently on the Amber list and I was returning to England, therefore, I was required to carry out the following checks and acquire the following documents:

  • A negative PCR test result.
    • As I was only in Madrid for four days, arriving on Thursday and leaving on Sunday, the PCR test was scheduled for Friday morning in order for the results to be processed in time for return travel. TIP: a negative Covid-19 test result is currently compulsory in order to travel back to the UK, this test will need to be factored into the trip according to the time-length of the stay.
  • UK Passenger Locator Form:
    • This online form must be completed before you arrive in the UK, even if you are only transiting through the UK.
    • You can submit the form any time in the 48 hours before you arrive in the UK.
    • You’ll need to show our form when you check in to travel or board your plane, train or ferry to the UK.
  • Confirmation of a Day 2 Covid-19 PCR test.
    • In order to complete the compulsory UK Passenger Locator Form, you are required to purchase a Day 2 or Day 2 and Day 8 PCR test. Providers can be found on the Gov.UK website and vary in price. You will need the booking reference from this test for the Locator Form.
    • Whether you just need the Day 2 or Day 2 and Day 8 tests and whether you need to isolate depends on where you’re travelling from and whether you’ve been fully vaccinated.

In my experience, as I had been fully vaccinated at least 14 days prior to travelling, I only needed to purchase a Day 2 test and didn’t have to self isolate.

Day 2 Test at home kit

Was it the headache I had imagined?

Excitement and anticipation to explore a new city, meet new industry colleagues and catch up with the old ones prevailed any rumblings of stress I felt.

But the golden rule remains: be prepared!

I’m not one to print documents but in this case, I wish I had. The faff of locating certain emails, flicking between open tabs and worrying your phone battery would die, could all be plicated with physical copies of all the paperwork.

My last tip would be to not leave the locator forms until the minute and ensure you ask for help and advice throughout all the processes, no matter how obvious or trivial you think your questions and queries may be.

Paperwork to remember:

  • Passport
  • NHS Covid Passport or proof of full vaccination
  • Passenger Locator Form QR code for your intended destination and the Passenger Locator Form QR code for returning home
  • Proof of negative Covid-19 test within 48 hours prior to the date of travel
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