a sign in a building

I’ve been a bit of a travel guinea pig over the last nearly two years. When necessary or sensible, I traveled in 2020 and have quite a bit in 2021 as well.

From London, there’s been a few trips to LA, New York, Greece and Spain, and I mention this because I’ve seen virtually every iteration of travel quarantine, testing protocols, border insanity and the rest of it during this unique and trying time.

I feel like a historian on the matter, at this point.

a sign with flags on it

Unfortunately, those experiences involved some of the things we’ve collectively read about on the news: 8 hour border delays, being held on planes because immigration was too full, that sort of joy. I’ve really had it all!

Times finally appear to be changing for the better.

Not once, but two times in a row now there’s been marked improvement. I entered Heathrow twice in the past two weeks at varying times of day and found not only had queues been significantly reduced, but e-gates were working more often.

It seems like border patrol finally synced up passenger locator form data with the automated systems, because manual checks are few and far between. That simply was not the case even a few weeks ago.

I arrived yesterday without a hitch. Now that pre-flight testing is dropped for most vaccinated visitors, check in and boarding before flight is much easier. You just fill out the PLF and book a test package (need test booked to fill out PLF).

My American passport worked just fine going through e-gates and I was landside again in under 5 minutes. The week prior, I arrived while traveling with our toddler, so we had to go through manual checks with an agent.

These were also brief, and didn’t involve showing any forms. It finally seemed like they had everything in their system already. It’s more of just the old formalities now, like a quick lift of the face covering to verify identity.

I Can Actually Recommend Visiting Now

My parents were in town a couple weeks ago before things simplified further, including the upcoming October 24th changes to Antigen tests after arrival, rather than PCR.

Seeing the tedious nature of the forms through fresh eyes was a great reminder of how much joy has been sucked out of the travel experience, thanks to all the extras tick boxes one must check to feel confident crossing a border, or even being allowed to board.

But now, in just the span of a couple weeks, I can recommend visiting the UK again. The quality of life experience here remains very high, with lots of personal freedoms and choices back in place for the actual trip. In addition costs are dropping.

The lack of pre-flight testing required to get into the country means the hassles prior to departure are minimal, with just one form and (cheaper) test booking needed, now that antigen tests will be accepted as the “day 2” test.

My most recent flight from Dallas was far from full, but was also far from empty. I expect that the US ending travel bans from Europe, the UK and elsewhere will only bolster that, as confidence grows, and positive reports like this become more frequent.

a large screen with a sign on it

In fact, the first class cabin was entirely full and business seemed largely booked. It’s things down the back which remain quiet. People are either trading up, taking fewer trips but in better style, or are waiting for things to keep getting easier before hopping on a deal on a whim.

I’ve had a couple silky smooth travel experiences in and out of the UK lately, and after more than a year of not being able to say that at all — it’s feeling like a mini trend. If you’ve been on the fence, I can finally say arriving in Heathrow feels palatable.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Glad to hear that Gilbert! Arriving at Stansted on 3/10/21 (less than 3 weeks ago) felt like absolute hell with an unbelievable number of passengers queueing at the border!

  2. I arrived back at Heathrow Terminal 5 last Sunday (17th) to enormous queues back, into the corridors . Heathrow has not changed – horrendous

  3. Hi Gilbert,

    Arrived into T5 with my 10yo son yesterday, around 730pm. We were ushered through to a separate families queue and were through passport control in five minutes. Much much better than some of the horror stories I’ve heard recently.

    1. Peter, so glad to hear. That’s been my experience the last couple times, after months without anything positive. No doubt it’ll remain hit or miss, but at least there are some hits now!

  4. The thing is Gilbert, the UK border has been open for a while, while the US opens up early next month. Let’s wait and see how things compare.
    I entered the UK as a Brit last month, my papers were verified before departing YYZ via an App which is partnering with BA. From landing at the C gates to going into the arrivals lounge at T5 was 25 mins.

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