We all know how complicated international travel can be right now. But that doesn’t mean my wanderlust has dissipated. So this past weekend, I decided to hop across the pond for a quick trip to London to visit a good friend.
London is one of my all-time favorite destinations, and I was longing for the prompt Tube, a cup of steamy English breakfast tea and an outing to the British Museum. Because of the COVID-19, I haven’t been back since 2019 when I studied abroad there. I planned a quick three-night trip to get a taste of what I was desperately missing.
For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter . A mass vaccination event at the London Stadium in London. (Photo by Jason Alden/Bloomberg/Getty Images) Obviously, traveling abroad requires research nowadays, and it’s not always simple. Luckily, my friend was able to help me decipher the COVID-19 requirements for entry into the U.K. and Day 2 test. At least, we thought we had them figured out. Requirements for travel to the UK
The U.K. currently requires fully vaccinated arriving travelers to take a COVID-19 test before the end of their second full day in England. (Called the Day 2 test, you currently must book your test and provide a booking reference number to complete the passenger locator form to board a flight to the U.K. Despite its name, you can book your test any time on the day of your arrival, the first day after you arrive or the second day after arrival.)
For American travelers, this is a bit daunting, as you have to go through lists of providers to determine which tests are the cheapest and most reliable. The U.K. government has a recommended list, but I settled instead on a provider my host recommended that was easily accessible from where I was staying in Marylebone.
After further research, I determined that this provider is also on the recommended list provided by the U.K. government. Taking my Day 2 test
I arrived on a Thursday (Day 0), so I decided to book the test for the following Saturday (Day 2) and was promised results by midnight. On a gray and misty morning before 10 a.m., I took the bus a few stops to the provider located at Shepherd’s Market. It was a relatively small testing site with a tiny reception area and two testing tables in the basement.
I filled out the required paperwork, showed my passport and waited my turn. I signed up for a COVID-19 PCR test, since that’s what was required. (On Oct. 24, travelers will be allowed to book an antigen test for Day 2 tests, which will be cheaper and provide faster results.)
The Day 2 test I booked cost me £69, for example (about $95). The same provider offers antigen tests for £29 (about $40, or less than half the cost of the PCR test).
I was called downstairs, swabbed in my throat, and I made sure to ask the test administrator if I could use the test for travel back to the U.S. He said yes.
But I would later learn this wasn’t the case.
I carried on with my day, enjoying a fashion exhibit at the Victoria and Albert museum and sushi with new friends. The test was far from my mind. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive my tests before midnight.
On Sunday I woke later in the morning as I figured I had some time to relax because I felt prepared to travel back to the U.S. with my test in hand. I immediately opened my email app and started scrolling for my test results. No luck. I refreshed a few more times, hoping the provider was having a slow morning (like me).
I finally decided to call the provider and waited on hold for 15 minutes before finally getting through to a representative.
I’m not normally one to complain about customer service over the phone, but this was an exception. I explained to her that I hadn’t received the results before midnight (as promised) and that I needed my test results in order to return to the U.S. She told me over the phone that my results were negative, but I needed a written document that I could upload to a verification app or show at check-in for my flight.
She was willing to send me an email with my results, so I was expecting an official email from the provider with a document stating my negative results. But this wasn’t the case.
A message arrived in my mailbox … but it was only text and seemed as if it was originating from a personal account. I asked numerous times for the results to be put in a PDF form that could be used for verification for travel. She refused.
What I could gather from her explanation is that they offer a “Fit to Fly” PCR test, which costs the same but includes documents for travel. Despite the fact that I paid the same price and had a PCR test, she refused to put my results in an official document.
It was around noon by the time that I got off the phone with her, leaving me only two hours to find a test before I needed to leave for the airport. Instead, I decided to schedule an antigen test at London Heathrow (LHR), which I thought would speed up the process.
But I was very wrong.
I arrived at Heathrow three hours before my flight, with a scheduled time for my antigen test. I walked over to the testing area, and my heart sank. There was a long line despite the fact that (I assume) many people had appointments.
It was one of the most inefficient testing centers I’ve ever visited. I was quoted a 20- to 30-minute wait, and I ended up waiting almost over an hour, not to mention I spent another £35 ($48).
After all that, I was then told my results wouldn’t come back for another 40 minutes. I did the math […]
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