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Testing times for travellers: how to avoid pre-travel COVID test fines and get airline tickets refunded

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The UK has surpassed other nations in administering COVID vaccines, but with the COVID variant still a mystery to contend with, international travel will be restricted both for outbound and inbound travel. Then there are the strict pre-travel COVID testing requirements and the related costs and fines as we have highlighted below.

As of 8 January, 2021 (Source: Department for Transport)

  • all international arrivals to England, including UK nationals, required to present a negative COVID-19 test taken up to 72 hours prior to departure
  • passengers will be subject to an immediate fine of £500 if they fail to comply with the new regulations on pre-departure testing
  • all passengers arriving from countries not on the government’s travel corridor list will still be required to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of test result
  • passengers will still be required to fill in a passenger locator form and be subject to national lockdown restrictions

Big fines

Passengers will be required to show their negative test result before boarding, and transport operators will deny boarding if necessary. On arrival back into the UK, Border Force will check passengers test results through the current spot check regime, to ensure that individuals are compliant with the new rules, and passengers will be subject to an immediate fine of £500.

There will be a limited number of exemptions, including for hauliers, children under 11, crews and for those who travel from countries without the infrastructure available to deliver the tests. Further exemptions will be set out on GOV.UK.

Regardless of their test result, all passengers arriving from countries not on the government’s travel corridor list will still be required to self-isolate for 10 days.

Test to release

Graphic showing self-isolation periods as described in this guidance.

Passengers arriving into England who have successfully demonstrated a negative result prior to departure from a country not on the travel corridor list will still have the option to reduce the self-isolation period from 10 to as little as 5 days by paying for a test through the Test to Release scheme.

The scheme requires a test to be taken on or after the fifth full day since leaving a country not on the travel corridor list.

If your test is inconclusive

If the result from your test is inconclusive you must continue to self-isolate. You can choose to take another privately provided test to find out if you can stop self-isolating early.

You may be fined if you do not self-isolate. The fine is £1,000 for the first time, up to £10,000 for further breaches.

What to do if your airline refuses a cash refund

If you are not legally allowed to travel, either because of lockdown measures or you are self-isolating, make sure you ask for a cash refund from your airline before the flight, ideally by email.

“If the airline refuses or doesn’t communicate with you, then act before your flight takes place by accepting the voucher or rebooking that is offered,” reported consumer finance site, Which?

“The fact that you have asked for a cash refund on record may put you in a better position to retrospectively claim your money if the Competition and Markets Authority later acts and tells airlines to pay cash refunds.  You should also submit a complaint to the CMA,” according to the report.

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