Travel expert Simon Calder answers your questions on everything from Ukraine to remaining Covid restrictions

Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine has sparked uncertainty for travelers and caused the price of oil to surge. And two years on from the World Health Organization declaring Covid-19 to be a global pandemic, coronavirus continues to cause endless problems for international traveler.

The travel correspondent of The IndependentSimon Calder, has been answering readers’ concerns.

Flight fares

Q: Are you able to say whether airlines are likely to impose surcharges on flights already paid for, in view of the rising oil prices?

Marlene K

A: As I write, the price of a barrel of Brent crude – which parallels the cost of aviation fuel – is at $111, around 50 per cent higher than at the start of 2022.

Some airlines are partially protected by “hedging” arrangements – an agreement to buy a certain amount of fuel for their forward needs at a specific price. For example easyJet is reported to have hedged at an attractive price, but only for 60 per cent of its needs, while Ryanair is better covered but at a higher rate.

Other companies have opted not to hedge because of the costs involved in this form of financial insurance. They are now seeing the cost of providing their promised service significantly higher than before. Add in the longer routings that some airlines are having to fly to avoid Russian airspace, and the economics of travel have changed dramatically since the Kremlin decided to invade Ukraine.

But in modern times I am unaware of carriers asking for more cash from passengers who have paid in full. The only exception was in 2006, when the-chancellor Gordon Brown suddenly hiked Air Passenger Duty at a few weeks’ notice, leaving airlines facing unexpected tax bills.

I don’t expect the same to happen in 2022.

On Thursday the Scottish airline Loganair imposed a £3.95 fuel surcharge, but made it clear that the fee applies only to new bookings – not existing ticket holders.

Anyone redeeming frequent-flyer points for “free” flights in most parts of the world, though, is likely to have to pay more for the privilege. Airlines are keen on “carrier-imposed surcharges” to shore up their finances, and these are added to government taxes applied to people availing of loyalty schemes.

Q: To book or not to book flights for the summer? Can prices only go up?

Bath Traveler

A: If oil prices remain high, air fares are likely to rise significantly in the medium-to-long term. In the short term, though – which I regard as between now and the autumn – the key decider will be passenger demand.

If it is weak, as now, fares will tend to fall. If demand strengthens, they will rise – possibly very sharply. But this likely to be confined to school holidays. So if you see a fare you like now, then go for it; but if they look annoyingly high already, and you plan to travel within term time, then personally I would relax.

Q: We have booked a trip to the Maldives for July through a specialist travel agent. We have only paid a deposit and the flights are on hold and will be ticketed when we pay the balance.

As there are rumours of flight price increases should we pay our flights to protect ourselves from a potential increase?

Art 1981

A: A very good question. Talk to your agent and see what they say – in particular about whether the price of the flight will be handed over at once to the airline.

I have been hearing from some holidaymakers who had paid in full but are now being asked for extra cash because the holiday firm hadn’t handed on the air fare – and the airline came back saying, “Here are some surcharges”.

Once the carrier has your money, you should not be troubled further; just make sure they will get it before you hand over the cash.

North American adventures

Q: Is it true that US authorities will only accept an antigen “home” test result if it has been done under video/audio supervision of a clinician? Or is it OK to provide a test result that has been authorized on the basis of uploaded photographic evidence of a test cartridge?

Dunc 002

A: I can understand you asking this question. The UK is in the odd position of having allowed travelers to provide “proof” of a negative Covid-19 test on the basis of a photo showing themselves holding a lateral flow device with a negative result. Not only is self-testing not nearly so effective at identifying coronavirus infection as a professionally administered test – this option is, I’m afraid, open to fraud. That is why the US health regulator, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), allows self-testing only when it is supervised “live” by a professional online.

“The testing procedure must include a telehealth service affiliated with the manufacturer of the test that provides real-time supervision remotely through an audio and video connection,” the CDC stipulates.

There is a limited window for testing before a flight to the US: it must happen on the day of departure or the previous day. So I urge anyone flying to America to book a proper test, ideally at the airport. Your airline will probably have a discount deal that will take the cost down to about £30.

While video-supervised self-tests are often cheaper, the additional hassle and stress (“Will I be able to take the test and get the certificate in time?”) means a proper, medically administered test is worth the extra.

Q: Are the US likely to relax pre-arrival tests anytime soon? Twenty-four hours before a flight is proving to be a logistic headache.

Northern Chris

A:To your question: the US has moved incredibly slowly over the past two years in easing travel restrictions, and I do not expect any great energy in removing the requirement for a pre-departure test.

In response to your point about “Twenty-four hours before a flight is proving to be a logistic headache”:

  • It’s not 24 hours, but any time on the day of travel or the day before. So if your flight is at 3pm on Saturday afternoon, you could take the test at one minute past midnight on Friday, which is 33 hours ahead.
  • I genuinely don’t see why there’s a logistic headache: just get the test done at the airport.

Q: Do you think USA will allow unvaccinated people in this year?

Tudor Fan

A: Yes. Even though, as mentioned earlier, “the US has moved incredibly slowly over the past two years in easing travel restrictions”, the strong direction of travel among nations where a reasonable number of people have been vaccinated against Covid-19 is to open up to all comers.

Tougher rules for unvaccinated travelers may be imposed. But in a slightly related move, United Airlines has just dropped its vaccine mandate for staff. So it may be that, as with nations from Iceland to Saudi Arabia, the US opens up to everyone.

Q: I have recently had a positive Covid-19 test result from an NHS PCR test. I have the confirmation email of the result and believe I will soon get a recovery pass on the NHS app.

Do you know if this is sufficient proof of a positive test and recovery for entry into Canada? Also, is there any prospect of further relaxation of entry restrictions to Canada any time soon? I travel in May.

Jake N

A: Yes, the Canadians say you are excused a test if “you no longer have symptoms and provide proof of a positive molecular test taken at least 10 calendar days and no more than 180 calendar days before entering Canada. Counting starts the day after your test.”

I hope by the time you travel (May is a perfect month, by the way) rules will have eased further.

Africa bound

Q: My wife and i are booked to travel on a train tour through South Africa and Namibia in late May/early June. Do you foresee any problems in that or reasons why it won’t happen?

CJB1963

A: I very hope and expect it will be fine. Personally, though, I would not have booked so far ahead. Plenty of uncertainty remains.

While revealing some fairly dismal traffic figures on Friday morning, Heathrow airport warned of: “Headwinds from higher fuel prices, longer flight times to destinations impacted by airspace closures, concerns from US travelers over war in Europe and the likelihood of new ‘variants of concern ‘.”

When I went to Australia last month, I bought the ticket the afternoon before departure.

Sporting chances

Q: A few questions about travel to Croatia. Am meant to be going on a tour there with my sports team in the first week of April. We are going by coach so how will that work with showing Covid certificates/ status of vaccination?

Will we just have to show this upon departure from the UK and not in any of the countries through which we are transiting?

For unvaccinated travelers what kind of tests do you need on the way out and on return to the UK?

Jane S

A: Crikey, that’s an undertaking. The one element of good news is that the UK couldn’t care less what your Covid vaccination status is when you leave these shores, but it will be relevant in every country you visit.

I calculate the absolute minimum number of countries you will have to go through on the way to Croatia is three: France, Italy and Slovenia (though this is by no means the fastest route).

Everyone on board must comply with all the rules for all the countries, which are likely to depend on the traveller’s vaccination status.

The organizer and the coach operator will need to work together to assess the requirements – which, by the way, will undoubtedly change in the next few weeks – and ensure that everyone complies.

It may be that the simplest way to proceed will be for unvaccinated travelers to fly, but that of course will increase the cost of the trip overall.

Hungary for travel

Q: Assuming we can get to Budapest in April. What hoops do we have to jump through to get there?

Marlene K

A: None, at the time of writing, when going out. This week Visit Hungary announced: “From Monday 7 March 2022, travelers can enter Hungary without the need for vaccination or immunity certificates, or any kind of test.

“Simultaneously, the lifting of the special rules of access for certain services and events means that vaccination certificates are no longer required for entry to indoor congresses or conferences, accommodation establishments, spas, sporting or cultural events, music and dance festivals, or outdoor events or any child.”

Coming home, the UK passenger locator form is still in place, but I predict this pointless piece of bureaucracy will be scrapped by the end of this month.

on form

Q: There are predictions of passenger locator forms being phased out shortly in the UK, what news is there of this move within the EU?

“Blueno Sea”

A: As with the start of the coronavirus pandemic and the clatter of travel restrictions that were imposed haphazardly around Europe and the rest of the world two years ago, there is little coherence.

Each EU nation is sovereign and therefore it can make its own decisions about conditions for arriving travelers. Most still require arrivals to fill in an online form, with some notable exceptions such as Hungary and Ireland.

I expect that by Easter, competitive reopening will have reached such a pitch that many nations will revert to something like normal – though for some the traveler’s vaccination status may continue to make a difference.

Cover query

Q: Two families booked on one trip all covered by the same travel insurance† If one member test positive before departure are both families covered by insurance? Or does one family still have to fly out?

Northern Chris

A: A typical travel insurance policy says cancellation is covered if “you, a close relative, traveling companion or any person with whom you have arranged to stay during the trip suffers unforeseen illness” – which would include Covid-19.

So, if you are all booked on the same itinerary, you would be covered. But I’m intrigued as to why one family would not wish to travel, even if the other family was unable to make the trip?

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