Confusion over the UK’s new testing rules has left dozens of passengers stranded in Canada, after they were denied boarding on the first flights back to the UK this morning.
In a Twitter thread, UK travel journalist Connor McGovern revealed that he and dozens of other Air Canada and British Airways passengers were left in Vancouver on Monday evening due to conflicting advice published by the British government.
The new testing rules state that all passengers returning to the UK from 4am today, 7 December, must have a negative result from a pre-departure test taken on the day of departure, or during the two preceding days.
McGovern’s flight was due to depart Vancouver airport at 5.55pm on Monday 6 December, so he and many other flyers interpreted that as being before the 4am rule change.
He shared a screenshot on Twitter where government rules state: “From 4am, Tuesday 7 December, all people aged 12 years and over must take a PCR or LFD Covid-19 test before they travel to England from abroad.”
“My flight was due to leave Canada at 17.55 on Monday, which means it leaves before it’s 04.00 on Tuesday in London. Therefore passengers don’t require a test, as this vague guidance implies. It says nothing about requiring a negative test for passengers ARRIVING after 4am,” tweeted McGovern.
He claims that, just before boarding, airlines with flights leaving Vancouver airport were informed that travellers would have to have a test to board.
“Plot twist: everyone is now at the gate and there is suddenly no way to get a test,” wrote McGovern.
The resulting chaos, he says, left passengers angry or in tears, making frantic phone calls to the UK and double checking government advice.
In the end, he says, “someone in an office somewhere had the final word and ignored the govt website” and he was one of several passengers denied boarding due to not having a test result.
“Passengers and airlines were clearly told different things with no chance to rectify the situation,” says McGovern, thanking the Air Canada crew for their calm and patience while assisting passengers in trying to resolve the situation.
The short-notice news around pre-departure testing was announced in a surprise Twitter update from ministers on Saturday, just before 7pm.
Since then, travellers have had a two-day window to decipher the new rules and book tests before their return to the UK.
As well as confusion over whether the deadline applied to the arrival or departure time of flights into the UK on 6 or 7 December, there has been a lack of clarity about the exact window in which travellers must take the newly required pre-departure test.
On Saturday, the health secretary, Sajid Javid, said tests “will be required a maximum 48 hours before the departure time”.
The press release that accompanied the statement made the same assertion, claiming the timing was “no earlier than 48 hours before departure”.
But the official statement of the rules is: “From 4am 7 December, you can take the test any time in the two days before the service on which you will arrive in England departs.”
This means that test can be taken on either of the two days before departure to the UK, or on the day of travel.
A senior UK airline executive told The Independent: “It’s just a complete mess. They are demonstrating beyond doubt that they have no more idea than the poor beleaguered average traveller. Making it up as they go.”
The Independent has contacted the Department for Health and Social Care, British Airways and Air Canada for comment.