International touristing during a pandemic: Getting There.


Typical London roofscape, seen from the window of our rented flat.

Peter and I went to London for 6 weeks a couple months ago. I wrote short weekly notes home to friends and family. Now we’re home, but the trip remains a happy memory. Here are some of the highlights.

The trip itself was full of surprises. Doing the online forms for the Passenger Locater Form (required by the UK) and for Verifly (strongly recommended by British Air) was a real pain. That comes after making appointments for three tests in the UK on days 2, 5 and 8 (expensive!), and another couple in Seattle (free) before we left. Then when I tried to check-in, British Air said I didn’t have a ticket. Much angst and many phone calls before they finally they admitted that indeed yes, I did have a ticket.

We loaded our phones with all the requisite forms and also had printed backups. The BA people at Sea-Tac were the one and only people who asked to look at them. Happily on the plane, we sat on the tarmac for about 90 minutes getting something fixed before take-off. Flight was empty—20 people on the whole 787.

Getting into the British spirit, I watched a David Attenborough special on species extinction, and a Prince William documentary with the same general messages. They both toed a tricky line between “it’s all over” and “there’s still a chance.” Prince William was far more articulate and intelligent than I’d expected, and I learned that his youngest kid’s name is really pronounced “Louieee” not Louis.

Arriving at Heathrow, there was no gate for us, so a bit of aimless taxiing ensued. Finally sprinting off the plane, the airport was empty. People coming from the US with US passports were allowed to zip through the automatic passport-reader gates, no line at all. We were told that they aren’t using Verifly at all, and no one mentioned the word quarantine or looked at our COVID-19 test documentation.

The whole thing took about 2 minutes. It took longer to get our bags.

Wednesday, we walked over to our first of our three COVID-19 tests—a nice 30 minute walk (no rain, despite the forecast) from our rented flat in Belgravia (right behind Harrods and the Ecuadorian embassy where Assange resided for seven years) over to the testing site near Victoria station. We’re allowed to un-quarantine to get tested, go to doctor or buy groceries if no delivery is possible. Test was efficient—a mouth and nose swab. Negative results emailed to us the next day. We’ve now been called by the test-and-trace people every day to remind us to stay in quarantine. Which we are.

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