"I can't go to Tarragona, but planning a trip to London is a different story"

Paperwork and impossible quarantines: flying during covid times

Alba Solé Borrull
4 min
Una viatgera a l'arribada a l'aeroport del Prat

BarcelonaTo the long list of prohibitions that define the new normality a concept has been added that, to those of us who live in Barcelona but are from other places in Catalonia, fell on us like a rock: municipal lockdown. It seems that when the lockdown ends, in a short time, it will become a regional lockdown, but it is of little use to me: to get from the capital to the Terra Alta (in Tarragona), where I have my roots, I have to cross a few regions.

So, I can't move from Barcelona during these long weeks. I can't go home during the weekend. But for family reasons I need to go to London too, and here, it's a different story.

With the ease that characterized the process before the pandemic disrupted our lives, I look for flights for the weekend that I am interested in (I leave on Thursday and return on Sunday) and I buy them without any further obstacles. The same airline company informs me, once the tickets are paid for, that in order to travel to the United Kingdom from Spanish territory I have to fill in a form without which I risk having to pay a fine (between 115 euros for the first offence, and 3,500 if I am a repeating offender) and having to return to my country (paying for the ticket myself) without having left the British airport.

After tirelessly answering questions without offering any resistance (not only am I being asked for more personal details than I knew I had, but the Boris Johnson government wants to know, among other things, which countries I have been to in the last 15 days, who I will be living with and where I will be while I am in the UK), we arrived at the key points.

Are you exempt from quarantine, the form asks me. And I, honestly reply: no. Where will you quarantine the first 14 days of your stay in the UK? And I, fidgeting: 14? But I've already told you I'll only be three days there... Now what? Worried because common sense dictates that if I have to do a mandatory two-week quarantine, it means I can't go for a few days, I interrupt the process and look for information. And it turns out that I can go, but on one condition: I cannot move from the address in which I said I would be on those days... except if I have to go to the airport to return to my country, a journey which, furthermore, I can make by public transport. Illogical, isn't it?

Patiently, I take the form (where I will also indicate which seat I am assigned on the plane, so that I can be notified if any fellow traveler tests positive soon), I send it, and a QR code is generated that assures me that I will have to show it when I arrive in London. Spoiler alert: nobody will ask me for the form.

Let the journey begin. At the airport of El Prat they make me show my boarding pass just before entering: they only let people who have to fly in, no companions. I enter, obviously, with the obligatory mask that I do not intend to take off until I reach the flat where I will be in London.

In 10 minutes I have passed the security and passport controls: the airport is practically empty. The plane, on the other hand, will be full: I suspect this is so when we are boarding and I confirm it when I see that it is my turn to sit between a British man and a British woman, who are also travelling alone, and surrounded by three more people in the front row and three more in the back row.

All of us seated here exchange a brief greeting, and a look with which we want to reassure each other that we are responsible, we do not question the importance of the mask; and not to worry, none of us have any symptoms.

I sit down and prepare to spend the next (almost) two hours without moving, and trying not to touch anything unnecessary (except the front seat with my knees, but that we already know).

Shortly after taking off, I see the two flight attendants who had welcomed me and given me hydroalcoholic gel when I entered the plane, pushing a cart through the aisle and giving away a bag of crisps and a bag of cookies to each passenger.

When our turn comes, the three of us accept the gift and I keep it in the bag. My companions do not: it seems that the calmness of temperament disappears when the appetizer comes to light. Suddenly I realize that everybody around me (from where I am, three rows with six seats each, that is, 17 people besides me) has taken off their mask, and the only thing I see is mouths opening and closing in slow motion and the only thing I hear is the cric-cric of the food, and the chewing of their jaws. Now I feel like a king who's been checkmated by 17 pieces. With my eyes I question them in order to know if they are not afraid of the risk of contagion. "Potatoes!", some eyes answer me. "Cookies!", reply the others.

Without further ado, we landed peacefully, I eagerly got out of the plane and, without anyone asking me for any forms, I entered the subway, where the first people I met without a mask reminded me that people here don't wear masks as much as they do in our country.

Three days later, I'll be back on the road. I will also have to fill in a form from the Spanish government, but it is simpler than the British one because I am not obliged to go into quarantine. And, instead, they will ask me for this one when I land in El Prat.

Now things have changed a little: since November 23, the Spanish government has also been asking for a negative PCR test made during the 72 hours prior to landing.

So, from now until Christmas I can go back to London as many times as I want, but I find it difficult to drive a car to my village. Partly because of the restrictions and, above all, because of a shared panic with friends and acquaintances about bringing the virus to an area with a very elderly population, where it could potentially be lethal. And, honestly, this makes it easier to have to wait until Christmas to hug my parents.