Flying Again! Spain to the UK and Back

My family were very supportive of our plans to leave the UK & travel. They’d all been aware this was a dream of ours, so once my very elderly mum-in-law gave her consent, we were off!

That said, we did miss everyone, but within the first six months of travelling, both Rob & I returned to the UK a number of times. This pattern continued for the next couple of years with some family members making the effort to visit us in the sun too.

Then the covid pandemic struck & we were all schocked & upset by the infections, resulting hospitalisations & deaths. We kept in touch with family by phone, text messages & emails, comparing lockdown experiences & how the pandemic was affecting our work.

My daughter’s holiday to Turkey in April 2020 was cancelled & she was also unable to visit us as she’d planned in May, or any other time that year. We all know how quickly restrictions & regulations changed, especially in the erratic UK! Living so close to the sea in Spain, Rob & I didn’t feel the need for a ‘holiday’, but I’m so pleased all my kids managed a week away in Cornwall with their dad in autumn 2020.

We missed everyone & were eager to get together again, but before we knew it, two years had passed since we’d seen each other. Getting vaccinated was the next goal & both mine were administered by June. But the UK was still insisting on quarantine for arriving travellers which didn’t make a flight there feasible.

Initially, I was frustrated that British citizens double-jabbed in the UK didn’t have to quarantine but, as I’d recieved my Pfizer vaccine in Spain, I would have needed-to!

Then, on 28th July, the UK announced no quarantine was necessary for anyone vaccinated (by an approved provider) in Europe with effect from 2nd August – yeaaay!

My daughter & I were texting, delighted that it looked very possible for me to go visit so, on impulse, on Thursday 29th I booked return flights departing Alicante on the morning of Monday 2nd August! Out with Jet2 & returning on the 9th with Ryanair.

Then I realised I had to organise the necessary covid tests. The first had to be a ‘Suitable for Travel’ Antigen test no more than 3 days before departure. I’d heard horror stories of people getting tests 3 days before, then their flights being delayed or cancelled & the test running out of date! Or, they’d gone for a test the day/a few hours before & the results were not back in-time. Or the test was inconclusive so a PCR test was required, so another appointment necessary with results taking longer to be issued. Aaargh!

As the IMED Medical Centres were testing throughout the weekend, I decided to book an appointment the morning of Sunday 1st, the day before my flight. All went well with a quick nasal swab & my negative result had been emailed by the time I arrived home from the clinic. €40 for an Antigen test.

Next job was booking an ‘Amber Fully Vaccinated’ appropriate PCR test in the UK which was necessary within 2 days of arrival.

The test booking reference was also required in order to complete the UK Passenger Locator Form. I was unable to book the cheaper home test as at least 4 working days were required for delivery. Not wanting to chase about during the first 2 days after arriving, during the time I wanted to spend with family, I opted for a test upon my arrival at East Midlands Airport. Jet2 provided a discount code for this reducing the test from £82.50 to £66.

48 hours prior to arriving in the UK, I was able to complete the Passenger Locator Form. I’d already downloaded a copy of my EU vaccination Certificate, so uploaded & attached all of the three essential documents to my boarding pass.

Time to pack, leaving enough space to bring some items back with me.

Then, with less than 24 hours notice before my flight, Jet2 cancelled it! They’d put me on a later flight out of Alicante to Birmingham with the promise of a coach transfer to East Midlands Airport. Or offered a refund.

Of-course this affected the time of my PCR test, which I couldn’t cancel & be refunded due to giving less than 72 hours notice…. I’d also no idea what time the coach would drop me off at East Midlands in order to reschedule the test – sigh.

So, after swearing & panicking a little, with more texting my daughter to work out the options, I booked another flight out of Alicante with Ryanair, keeping fingers crossed that Jet2 would provide the refund as promised.

Then I changed the time of the PCR test &, although the reference number was still the same, due to having a different flight & arrival time, I had to complete another Passenger Locator Form.

I’m so pleased that I was home & able to spend all the time doing all these changes! It would have been a nightmare, or very late night, if I had been out for the day.

No test was required for my return to Spain, just a Health Control Form completing within 24 hours of arrival, so I diarised a reminder to do this.

When I first arrived to live in Spain, flights were a straight-forward process that I undertook without worry. However, after the hassle of test appointments & flights etc, which tested my admin & organisational skills, I was quite nervous about completing this journey.

I had to show my boarding pass before being allowed into the departure hall at Alicante Airport then, as I’d been unable to contact Jet2 by phone, I headed to their desk. No queue & no problems at all, my refund was processed.

There were long queues at baggage check-in, but as I only had hand luggage, I passed through security quickly & easily. The airport was quiet with plenty of free tables for the food outlets, so time for lunch.

At passport control, I was asked if I was a resident of Spain so showed my TIE alongside my passport. At the Ryanair gate, an assistant was walking the queue to check all documents. He watched me scroll through my 3 pieces of evidence, obviously checking the layout of each looked OK as surely he couldn’t read everything on my tiny mobile phone screen?

The plane was probably a quarter full, if that.

East Midlands Airport passport control were using the automatic scanners & randomly pulling out passengers to check their documents, not checking everyone. I passed straight through without being stopped.

There are two covid test centres at East Midlands Airport, a drive-through & walk-in. Not having a car, I chose the latter & entered the ‘Test Centre’ cabin immediately outside Arrivals. Only to be informed that testing was done elsewhere & to follow the yellow signs. Which I couldn’t find!

After walking the wrong way, I asked for directions at the BP petrol station to be advised that the test centre was at the opposite & far side of the airport. The very helpful chap suggested I hop on one of the park & ride buses. I was glad I did! I was the only passenger & the accommodating driver told me when to get out. This was right-by Long Stay 1 car park, the furthest point it was possible to go within the airport complex!

Walk-in centre indeed… A very long walk. The drive-in centre (operated by a different company) was close-by.

The centre was quiet with most technicians sat outside the cubicles, busy with their head in their mobile phones. A quick throat & nasal swab & I waited outside for my son & daughter to arrive to collect me.

The negative test result was emailed the following day. Of-course it was negative! I’d only been tested 30 hours before & any infection wouldn’t have taken hold in such a short time… But that was what was required by the UK Government.

I had a lovely week away & managed to fit in 2 visits to each of my close family members & had tea with a friend & fellow Virtual Assistant. I ate & drank too much, had lots of laughs & cuddles, my meals were all cooked & I slept in 3 different homes.

The UK hadn’t had the same rules as Spain regarding compulsory mask-wearing so I was surprised that at least 50% of people in my home town did have masks on. The town centre didn’t feel quite as abandoned as I thought it would be due to many high street stores closing since my last visit. Less people were wearing masks in the bigger city of Sheffield, even on the bus, but my daughter & I continued to do-so.

24 hours before departing, I completed my Spanish Health Control Form & uploaded/attached this, to my boarding pass, together with my EU Vaccinantion Certificate. As usual, there were long queues through security at East Midlands Airport, but the departure hall was quiet.

At the the Ryanair gate, my passport was checked & I was asked if I had my Health Control Form, though this wasn’t scruitinised. The plane to Spain was perhaps a third full.

At passport control in Alicante Airport, to avoid an arrival date stamp in my passport, I showed my resident’s TIE alongside. Before baggage reclaim, the QR code on my Health Control form was scanned & there was some queuing for this, but with half a dozen desks & scanners, I was soon out & home!

I’d love to go back before Christmas, but who knows what regulations & restrictions will be in-place? The UK are twitchy about traveller arrivals, even though the daily infection rate there far exceeds that in Spain. We’ll see…