To say I’ve seen it all would be a fair statement, when it comes to UK travel over the past few years.
I never stopped moving, albeit at a slower pace than usual, and rules at the various times over the last few years meant that I spent nearly a month of each of the previous two years quarantining in the UK to comply with travel restrictions at the time when I swapped for American shores.
But now, things are vastly different. And when I say vastly, I mean v-a-s-t-l-y different.
Fully vaccinated people can travel to the UK without any testing or quarantine requirements and the first UK airline just dropped mask rules on planes. Domestically all covid-19 related restrictions have been dropped and there’s absolutely no need to wear a mask or supply proof of vaccination anywhere.
After spending the last month in California, where I watched plenty of people get barked out of stores and restaurants for lack of mask or proof of vaccination, it’s a bit of a culture shock here, but not one I necessarily disagree with at all at this point, given the success of the various health programs to make the pandemic, endemic.
What It’s Like In the UK Right Now
Every time I leave my house here, I feel a slight sense of urgency or anxiety. I imagine many people traveling from other parts of the world might too, at least at first.
In the US, I became pavlovian trained to do a quick check for my phone; to prove my vaccination status and at least one mask for the inevitability that if I went in a store, restaurant, coffee shop or bar, I’d need one.
It’s almost hard to decouple the notion that leaving the house no longer requires the things it has for the last two odd years. In the UK it does not.
As I approach shops and hospitality businesses I have that brief moment of panic of “where’s my mask” before realizing they’re no longer required. People, of course, are still welcome to wear masks or any PPE they wish, but i’d say 90% of people no longer are. Honestly, it feels great.
Flying Into The UK
Flying into the UK is nearly as simple as travel was prior to the global pandemic, with just a couple small caveats. Already it means planes are flying with more passengers. My last flight back just a week ago on Virgin Atlantic had 43 people in 44 possible seats in business class.
You still need to fill out a passenger locator form (PLF) before checking in, and you still need to supply proof of vaccination to avoid any quarantine. If you can, testing is not required before travel, or after arrival.
If you have digital proof of vaccination, the passenger locator form is even easier because the QR code on a digital form of proof of vaccination means you no longer need to show any documentation when checking in at the airport, thus speeding things up nicely.
On the other side, after landing, passenger locator forms seem better synced with passport data, so the requirement to physically pull out proof of vaccination is mostly uncommon. My last venture through immigration was quick and painless with very few questions asked. Wait times appear to be improving too.
UK airline Jet2 recently dropped its mandatory mask policy, but masks are expected on other airlines and are required departing most other countries.
Hotels, Bars, Restaurants And Attractions
Officially, all covid-19 rules have been scrapped in England. This means that it’s not legally compulsory to do anything now that wasn’t required prior to the pandemic.
On the ground, and in practice, I’ve yet to run into a hospitality business which is requiring masks or proof of vaccination. It’s no longer a legal requirement, and my read of the public here is that most people were fully “over it” by the time the rules changed anyway.
I’ve only noticed people actively wearing masks in things like hairdressers, but people traveling in from elsewhere probably aren’t too concerned about this. At any sporting events and concerts the requirement to wear masks or supply vaccination proof is also gone.
More Likely To Visit, Or Less?
Basically, if this is appealing, it’s not just the rules dropped, but the practices as well. If that’s uncomfortable, no one I’ve seen judges those who still wish to wear anything to bring the protection they require. It’s not uncommon to see employees in many places still wearing masks, either.
It’s not a Covid-19 free for all, at least outside of crowded pubs — and restaurants have largely done a good job of placing tables with better distance than prior to the global pandemic. It’s nice not to be able to join in on the conversations of a nearby table!
If you’re considering travel to the UK, consider stepping back in time to a world sans the requirements and restrictions of the last two years. For some, that’s added reason to visit, while for others it’s a reason to give caution. Whatever it is for you, that’s the way it is right now.