Travel restrictions

“I’m so excited! » : the English appreciate the lifting of restrictions on foreign travel | Travel & leisure

In London St Pancras, a ghost station for much of the past two years, the sun shone through the glass roof and Elton John’s piano, sealed for Covid, rang again. Luckily for Eurostar, the start of the mid-term jaunt meant the return of lines of passengers that meandered along the storefronts, heading for Paris and Amsterdam.

“I’m so excited, I’m like a child!” said a woman queuing with her boyfriend for the 10:22 a.m. departure, a 22nd anniversary gift from a trip to Paris.

She wasn’t the only one feeling this. On the day that many schools in England disbanded and Covid travel restrictions were lifted, tour operators and airlines experienced the first mini-boom of 2022. With families heading abroad for holidays in skiing and city breaks – and summer bookings pouring in – the battered travel industry has expressed cautious optimism that normality will return this year.

Business has taken off since the announcement in late January that England’s Covid testing requirements for those vaccinated would be scrapped, reducing costs and hassle, and giving customers the confidence to book after the fire regime uncertainty traffic which changed the authorized destinations every week.

The need for post-arrival or second-day testing was officially lifted hours earlier at 4 a.m. on Friday, and the Eurostar, whose survival was in question, was buzzing again. The staff at the stations of the cross-Channel service have been busy encouraging passengers to circulate, to prepare their negative Covid tests – always an obligation for France – and to wear their masks.

“Come on, it’s ok, right there – it’s great to see so many people, but…” said a happily stressed Eurostar employee, putting people in the right line waiting. It is the first day, she said, in a long time that the trains have been so packed, with around 700 people on board each. Several of the nine departures to Paris have been completely sold out. In the depths of the pandemic, the daily lonely train was barely busy.

Now there were couples in Paris – ‘it’s Valentine’s Day, our first,’ one said – as well as groups heading to the ski slopes and families taking their first vacations since covid.

Kelsey Burdon, from Chelmsford, was heading with her partner and two children to Disneyland. “This is our first trip in two years. We booked a long time ago. Not having to test on the way back was a happy bonus: “We’ll save a lot on day two testing.”

Pete Hovden, from south London, who works in IT, was taking his son Charlie to watch Paris Saint-Germain play football. The rule change had not been a factor, he said: He had recently managed to take a ski trip that had been rescheduled three times and had traveled across Europe during the pandemic. “I don’t think people care that much after two years of this – they book and accept that they might have to cancel,” he said.

Travel agents say the uncertainty has left many people turning to experts to organize their holidays. Hays Travel, which took over collapsed Thomas Cook high street agencies in 2019, took a third more bookings the week after the change was announced, up to the level just before coronavirus first hit.

Dame Irene Hays, the company’s chairman, said it was “remarkable to see”. Greece, Spain and Turkey were booking like never before, but there was “phenomenal interest in more distant destinations”, from Mexico and the Caribbean to Bali and Dubai. Customers were spending an extra £500 on an average family holiday, she said, for better accommodation and a longer stay.

EasyJet said ski, city and beach holidays sold well, with Geneva, Amsterdam, Tenerife and Malaga being the main destinations for a busy semester. Spain, Portugal, Greece, Switzerland and Germany all recently lifted travel testing requirements for vaccinated UK travelers, offering “totally free holiday options”, the airline said.

MAG, owner of Manchester and Stansted airports, expects 1.5million passengers over the next 16 days (with schools in some areas closing next Friday) – more than 20 times the number a year ago. There is a real sense of excitement for travel as we head into the summer season,” said general manager Charlie Cornish.

Gatwick was due to have its busiest day of 2022 with around 50,000 passengers on Friday – and also announced it will reopen its South Terminal on March 27, when British Airways restarts short-haul flights from the airport. Gatwick mothballed one of its two terminals in June 2020 when numbers fell by 95%, but is now anticipating a busy summer, welcoming 5,000 more people back to work at the airport. Its managing director, Stewart Wingate, said: “Things are looking quite good – it’s remarkably different. Airlines want to fly and passengers want to travel. In a little over six weeks, we will begin to grow again.

BA will operate more flights to cities such as Barcelona and Lisbon this half year after seeing a “boost in bookings” from Covid test changes. At Gatwick and Heathrow, anonymous volunteer workers wore Peggy the Pegasus and Leo the Lion outfits ready for the family check-in. Tenerife, Madeira and Lanzarote were the most popular destinations, BA said, with holidaymakers flocking to the Canaries.

An exodus from the Canary Islands may not make a summer, some have warned. Heathrow Airport said it saw an “Omicron hangover” affect demand. And Abta, the travel association, said mid-term was promising but not a key time for most tour operators. A spokesperson said: “A number of things still need to change and remain stable for us to get back to pre-pandemic levels – but it is definitely improving.

“This year, it really feels like people are going to jump at every opportunity to travel. A lot of people have decided, great, we’re finally going to leave – and [they] are extinguished.