Can Britons book their summer holidays now? And other questions answered

The UK Foreign Office (FCO) has updated its travel advice to allow for non-essential travel to 59 countries and territories that it no longer deems high risk for British travellers. Holidays can go ahead to countries on the “safe list” from 10 July. Passengers (both returning Brits and international tourists) arriving from these countries will not face quarantine.

Currently this list, which is under constant review, is for England only, but the other devolved governments are expected to accept the list. Within the UK, the Welsh border is due to open to tourists from Monday 6 July, Scotland is aiming for 15 July, while Northern Ireland has already reopened.

Can I travel to all of the countries on the list?

Not necessarily. Each country will have its own rules on who can enter, regardless of whether the UK says it safe to travel there. Some countries may not permit UK nationals to enter and they may ban anyone who has been in the UK in the previous two weeks. For example, despite Greece being on the list of safe countries, UK tourists must still quarantine for 14 days on arrival, and there is a ban on direct flights until 15 July.

Security measures in place at borders could also prevent potential loopholes for passengers to transit through other “safe” countries first and dodge travel bans. Sit tight if your chosen destination is not yet on the list, as more countries are expected to be added in the coming weeks – and some airlines and hotels are offering fee-free date changes if you cannot travel at a certain time. If you attempt to travel to a country for which the FCO advice has not changed, be aware you could be turned away at the airport (unless you can prove the journey is essential and not a holiday).

If I book a flight, what can I expect?

The onboard experience will feel very different. Most airlines (and airports) have made face masks mandatory and you could be refused boarding without one. Bringing several for longer journeys is recommended, with British Airways and EasyJet suggesting you change your mask every four hours. Use of the toilet will be managed by cabin crew, in some cases queuing may not be allowed. Other measures in some airports include temperature screenings, additional hand-sanitising stations, limited food and drink, and floor markings to encourage social distancing.

Online check-in, avoiding touching surfaces and restrictions on hand luggage (which Italy has banned from 26 July) are also among the government’s list of recommendations. Most low-cost airlines are already operating flights around Europe, with schedules increasing over the coming weeks. The much-debated issue of leaving the middle seat free has not led to any regulation, although some carriers beyond Europe are limiting capacity.

How will my holiday have changed?

How close you can get to others and how strictly it is enforced depends on the country and the activity – although overall 1.5-2 metres is commonly expected in public places. In many of the UK’s favourite holiday destinations, this applies in tourist attractions, museums and galleries, some of which will require booking a timeslot in advance. Cafes, bars and restaurants are also limiting capacity in many areas, and may only offer al fresco seating. Many nightclubs remain closed too – major venues in the party capitals of Ibiza, Amsterdam and Berlin are among the destinations pausing parties this summer. Buffets have been scrapped in many hotels in favour of table and room service; and some spas will stay closed, or limit treatments or access.

Will I have to socially distance on the beach and in the pool?

Unless you’re heading for a wild stretch of coast, there are rules for beaches in many popular holiday spots. Mobile phone tracking on the Belgian coast; drones in Spain and reservations for some French beaches are among the tactics in place to combat overcrowding. Sun loungers and parasols are being kept apart on many beaches, some within marked squares – and in hotels you may have to book in advance. Both chlorinated and saltwater pools are expected to be open to guests, but social distancing will still apply both in and out of the water – potentially with underwater markings and queuing systems. Public pools will also limit capacity, some may also ban floatation aids, and changing rooms and indoor pools could remain closed.

What should I expect on trains and other transport?

Cross-border rail routes across Europe are beginning to operate again, and as many countries require face masks to be worn in public, trains are rarely an exception. Amenities such as bike storage and catering also vary depending on country, so check before you travel. Other public transport, including trams, metros and buses also require the wearing of face masks in many countries, as do taxis, some of which are limiting capacity per ride. In terms of car hire, new measures are up to individual firms rather than regulation. Among its “safe travels” recommendations, the World Travel and Tourism Council advises rental companies to limit the number of customers at collection points, the introduction of curbside pick-up and drop-off, and enhanced cleaning regimes.

What does this mean for travel insurance?

Almost all travel insurance policies being sold right now specifically exclude Covid-19-related claims for cancellation and curtailment. While some will cover medical expenses if you catch the virus abroad, they will generally not pay if you were forced to spend two weeks in a local lockdown, or missed the flight home. If travel does take off in bigger numbers, expect more insurers to offer better terms, although they are still going through a backlog of claims from the first lockdown.

What are the financial risks if I book a holiday now?

The biggest risk is a second wave of infections and a Leicester-style lockdown that prevents you from leaving home. Anyone booking their own trip this week would be highly unlikely to be offered a refund if they couldn’t get the airport because of a local lockdown, and the holiday went ahead without them. Only one insurer is offering cancellation cover for recently booked trips. Annual travel policies offered by banks will not step in and pay out. A package holiday to, say, Spain would be covered if Spain was forced to shut down, and the tour operator had to cancel. Self-booked flights and an Airbnb would not.

Have prices gone up for holidays or can I bag a bargain?

Last weekend’s tentative announcement led to a flurry of bookings and some of the best deals have gone. On the ferries to France, anyone hoping for a bargain has missed the boat. In the space of 24 hours, tickets on DFDS’s Newhaven/Dieppe, long seen as the value route to mid-France, shot up from £280 to £425. Prices of booking a Portsmouth/St Malo crossing with Brittany Ferries for popular weekend departures in August all top £900 return. Stena Line is now quoting £943 for a family of four to take return overnight crossings in August from Harwich to the Hook of Holland, the peaktime fare includes a cabin both ways.

Emma Coulthurst, travel commentator from holiday price comparison site TravelSupermarket says good deals “are very much available” and with many opting for staycations, it is cheaper to book a break abroad than in the UK.

“Seven night holiday packages from the UK for two adults and two children during the summer school holidays to the likes of Greece, Spain and Italy start from as little as £220 per person. It is normally difficult to find anything under £300pp for a week in August,” she says. “City break packages start from as little as £85pp for two nights, flight and accommodation included.”

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