A school worker from the UK has revealed what it’s like flying into the city’s airport from a country on the UK red list.
Sara Callaghan, 30, landed at Birmingham Airport on Monday, July 12, following a seven-hour flight from Dubai, where she now lives.
The school counsellor says she had to travel to the UK to attend lectures in London as part of her post-graduate distance learning course.
But she’ll have to quarantine in a hotel at a personal cost of £2,000 before she’s allowed to continue her journey.
From planning the trip and filling out paperwork to quarantining on the other side – travelling abroad isn’t as simple as it used to be.
Sara spoke to BirminghamLive about her experience flying to the city from a red list destination.
Preparing to fly
Sara said the most complicated part about preparing to fly to the UK was filling out the paperwork for her hotel, where she’ll be quarantining for 10 nights.
Before heading to the UK from a red list country, travellers must take a Covid-19 test and get a negative result in the three days before they fly, book a hotel to quarantine once they arrive, and complete a passenger locator form with details of where they will be staying.
“You’ve got to make sure you have a negative Covid test before you fly and fill out a locator form and you need to have an invoice showing you’ve booked your hotel,” said Sara.
“I work in a school in Dubai so I have to have routine tests anyway so I’m used to that.
“My negative result came back 24 hours before my flight.”
Arriving at Dubai International Airport on Sunday, July 11, Sara said she felt “very safe” as she headed for her flight because of the Covid measures in place.
“There were people doing temperature checks and you have to wear a mask in the airports in Dubai – there are police walking around fining people who don’t wear one,” she said.
“It was really straightforward going through the airport in Dubai, I felt very safe.”
When it came to the flight itself, Sara said she had “never been on a flight like it”.
On an Emirates flight that would usually be filled with a few hundred people, Sara counted just over 30 passengers.
“I do this journey every year and I’ve never been on a flight like it, it was so empty,” she said. “The Dubai to Birmingham flight is one of the most popular flights and this is the first time I’ve ever seen it not packed.
“There were 30 to 40 people max on the entire flight. I kept thinking maybe the flight was delayed but then the doors closed and I realised that was it.
“Everyone had their own row and there were so many gaps. Everyone was assigned a seat and we weren’t allowed to change that. It made me feel a lot safer.
“I got on the plane thinking I won’t eat or drink so I don’t have to take my mask off. I haven’t had Covid yet and – touch wood – I don’t want to get it.
“But the plane was so clean and there was so much space that I didn’t feel anxious at all.
“Every time I went to the toilet there was a fresh toilet cover every time. It was a great experience.”
Landing in Birmingham
Landing in Birmingham at 11am the next morning, Sarah described the process of getting to her quarantine hotel as a “slick operation”.
She said: “We landed in a separate terminal and we were seated in groups according to where our quarantine hotel was.
“There were two gentlemen swearing blind that they weren’t aware they had to go into a quarantine hotel, but the airport staff dealt with it really well and explained it to them.
“From there, we went into a separate baggage claim where we were seated again according to our hotel. The baggage was out in 10 minutes – it was a very slick operation.
“After that, we went through a tunnel straight onto a coach where we were seated socially-distanced until we got to our hotel.”
Despite feeling safe overall as she moved through the airport, Sara admitted she was slightly unnerved to see some people not wearing masks inside.
“I was quite surprised given that we’re required to quarantine in a hotel to see people not wearing masks in the airport,” she said. “I assumed England would be really tight on their Covid requirements but the airport was much less strict than in Dubai.
“I saw quite a few people who didn’t have their masks on properly or weren’t wearing one at all. We don’t have any mask exemptions in Dubai so it was quite a shock to see. I just held my breath when I walked past!”
Sara had hoped Dubai would be moved to the amber list before she travelled so she didn’t have to quarantine in a hotel – but unfortunately that wasn’t the case, meaning she had to pay nearly £2,000 to rent a room for 10 nights at the Crowne Plaza at Birmingham’s NEC.
She said: “It wasn’t the quarantine that bothered me, it’s the money. It’s costing me close to £2,000 to pay for the hotel and I’m already paying for my course, so it is expensive.
“My family live just down the road in Sutton so I don’t understand why I can’t just quarantine there.”
She added: “It’s really hard to see the football on TV and see so many people in the streets when we’ve been escorted by police through an airport from a red list country which is doing Covid restrictions properly.”
Despite the inconvenience, Sara says she has been “pleasantly surprised” by her quarantine hotel experience so far – especially given the horror stories she’s read online.
“When I realised I was coming to the UK, I joined a few forums online and a lot of people have had really dreadful experiences of quarantine hotels. I’ve been really lucky.
“A common trend I noticed was that a lot of the horror stories were from people who had flown into London, whereas people travelling to Birmingham had better treatment. It’s part of the reason I decided to fly to Birmingham instead.
“I was really pleasantly surprised when I got here. The staff have been lovely and know exactly what they’re doing. I had food delivered to my room within 15 minutes of my arrival and someone came back an hour later to check if I wanted anything from the trolley.
“I’m lactose intolerant and the chef has called up to my room to ask what I wanted instead for dinner. It’s been so much better than I was imagining.”
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Sara will have to take a Covid test on day two and day eight of her stay, and following the first negative test, will be able to go outside to a section of the car park for some fresh air.
“I’ll be out of quarantine on the 22nd,” said Sarah. “Then I’ll be off to London for 15 days for my course, then have three days to see my family before I need to fly back to Dubai.
“I’ll have to take a Covid test straight away when I land and quarantine at home until my result comes back – then it’s back to work.
“It’s not an ideal summer but it is what it is. It’s a means to an end of the pandemic.”
Should Dubai be on UK’s red list?
Sara has expressed her disappointment that Dubai was placed on the red travel list – despite the United Arab Emirates having a higher percentage of its population fully vaccinated than the UK and stricter rules around mask-wearing.
“On the Dubai side, they’re really really strict when it comes to Covid,” said Sara. “We’ve been wearing masks from day dot and when we had our lockdown, it was proper serious – you couldn’t even go outside for exercise.
“I am really shocked it’s still on the UK red list. As soon as Covid hit in March, we went straight into lockdown. It looked very different to the situation in the UK, it was a real lockdown.
“Every villa complex had security – you couldn’t leave your house so we were inside for months. We had to get a license to be able to go to the supermarket which was given to us by the police.
“It’s a very different culture over there so when we were told to wear masks, everyone did as they were told because they know there’s strict consequences.
“There were temperature scanners everywhere and the schools were off straight away. I always felt very safe.
“Then I came back to the UK in December when my sister had a baby and I was so shocked how differently it was being handled. Not everyone was wearing masks and I just felt really uncomfortable so I just stayed inside the whole time.
“Most people are double vaccinated now so it is really disappointing that Dubai is still on the red list – there are so many British expats that live in Dubai that haven’t been able to get home in two years.”