Navigating the UK entry rules

By David Mumford

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The UK’s Covid-related entry rules are starting to get a bit confusing. So here’s the no-nonsense lowdown on what you need to know if you’re planning a flight to the UK.

Quarantine Rules

Passengers:

  • The UK closed all travel corridors from January 18. This means there will now be no exemptions to the quarantine-on-arrival rules – all inbound international passengers (including UK citizens) will need to self-isolate for ten days. In most cases, you can reduce this by getting a test after five days in the country.

Crew:

  • UK-based crew are exempt, and do not need to self-isolate on arrival. Foreign crew must self-isolate in the hotel whilst on layover. You can read the government guidance on this here.
  • From Apr 6, there’s a new rule – all crew who are staying in England for longer than two days will be required to take a Covid test before the end of day two (arrivals into Scotland and Northern Ireland are exempt). Those remaining in England for any longer than 2 days will then be required to take a further test every 3 days – typically on days 5 and 8. If you’re staying for less than 2 days then no test is required. Crew do not need to isolate during this period unless they test positive. You can read the government guidance on this here.

Pre-Departure Covid Tests

Passengers:

  • Passengers (including UK citizens) need proof of a negative Covid test taken within three days of their departure to the UK. This test can be an antigen test, or a nucleic acid test (PCR or LAMP test).

Crew:

  • Crew are exempt – they do not need proof of a test prior to arrival. Full guidance can be found here.

Flight Bans

Direct passenger flights from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cape Verde, Portugal, South Africa and the UAE are banned, except for air ambulance flights and emergency diverts. Check the EGTT Notams for details of these.

Travel Bans

Flight bans ban flights. Travel bans ban travel. These are separate things!

So there are some restrictions on inbound travel, which were introduced following the discovery of new coronavirus strains in Brazil and South Africa.

Entry to the UK is now prohibited to foreign passengers (i.e. non British and Irish nationals/residents) who have been in or transited through these so-called “Red List” Countries in the past ten days. The list changes frequently, so check the government page for the latest version.

Hotel quarantine for arrivals from ‘red list’ countries

Passengers:

  • From Feb 15, any passengers who have been in one of the ‘red list’ countries within the past 10 days will have to stay at a quarantine hotel for 10 days on arrival. This will only apply to returning UK citizens and residents, as foreign passengers who have been in these countries are banned from entry.
  • This costs £1,750 per person, to cover transport, tests and accommodation – all of which will need to be booked in advance through an online booking system. Everyone will be required to take 2 mandatory Covid tests – on day 2 and day 8 of their 10-day quarantine.
  • The government guidance for all this can be found here.

Crew:

  • Crew are exempt from hotel quarantine. On March 19, the UK Government announced significant changes to the entry rules for crew, which effectively means that the quarantine rules are the same regardless of where you’ve been in the last 10 days – Foreign crew are now allowed to enter the country, but must self-isolate in their hotels whilst on layover; and UK-based crew no longer need to quarantine in a government approved hotel, or self-isolate at home.

Passenger Locator Form

Passengers: All inbound passengers need to complete a passenger locator form before they arrive in the UK (except if travelling from one of the following places, and they were there for 10 days or more: Ireland, the Channel Islands, or the Isle of Man).

Crew: Crew need to complete the form too, unless they travelled in a part of the aircraft that is not accessible to passengers, for example a fully enclosed cockpit.

You cannot submit the form until 48 hours before you’re due to arrive in the UK.

Enhanced General Aircraft Declaration Process

Operators headed to the UK still need to adhere to the Enhanced General Aircraft Declaration process that was introduced back in May 2020. You can view the full government-issued guidance here, but here are the important bits:

First off, there’s an announcement you need to make prior to letting your pax off the plane. The UK government has written the script they’d like you to read:

All inbound flights must also file a General Aircraft Declaration (GAD), confirming that they’ve got no symptomatic pax on board. Here’s a copy of this form, which you can download from the UK government site:

The Health Control Unit at Heathrow are the people you need to send this to (heathrow.hcu@phe.gov.uk) – as well as the local authorities at whichever airport you’re flying to. Full instructions on what to do can be found here, but here’s a summary of how it works:

  1. Before you set off: Send the GAD to the Health Control Unit at Heathrow before you set off.
  2. While in flight: Notify them of any potentially symptomatic passengers while in flight, and give them a further update within two hours of arrival.
  3. Prior to disembarkation: Hand over the GAD to the local airport operator and PHE prior to disembarkation. All this may trigger further protocols once you are on the ground.
  4. Disembark: If no suspected symptomatic passengers onboard, you can disembark.

Emergency medical attention will always supersede any public health intervention – if you or a passenger needs an ambulance on arrival, follow SOPs for a medical emergency.

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David Mumford

David Mumford

Opsgroup team member, Flight Dispatcher. International flight ops news hound.

4 Comments

  • Alex McNeer says:

    Are there any exemptions for vaccinated passengers or crew traveling to the UK or the EU? Progress towards it?

  • SSC says:

    For Private/GA positioning crew I had an overnight connection through the UK from South Africa via Doha on March 15th. As South Africa is a red list country it states you’re not exempt and have to quarantine. Their system is not setup for this as I found out. It was a 4 hour process from landing to arriving at the designated quarantine hotel. They charged me for one night stay however they were unsure if the system would of allowed it. Basically one night could of cost me 1750 pounds. Thankfully not.
    Long story short the first two border officers were unsure how to proceed and after some common sense prevailed I was allowed to depart on my connecting flight the following day. I am also a British National.

  • Anonymous says:

    Why are airline crew not forced to isolate after every flight?

  • Ian Dingwall says:

    I am trying to return from UAE aftercworking . I have been in a bubble with heaktg checks ,vivid testing and movement restriction . However I am now looking at ways to return as my Emirates flight has been cancelled .
    I live in Scotkand and have a flat thatvwill be used for self isolation purposes on my return . However with the proposed new hotel to pay govt requirement I am concerned if this is applied to me on arriving at the first airport in the UK even though i would get a connecting flight to GLA , al be it from a different airline .
    Can anyone tell me what is actually occurring on landing in UK regarding this as there appears not to be anyone in govt to contact to find out

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