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Transiting in the UK During the Pandemic: What Travelers Need to Know

Planning a trip that involves a layover or transfers through a UK airport? Learn everything you need to know with our practical guide. Read ON!
Transiting UK During Pandemic
The United Kingdom is often called the ‘Gateway to Europe’ thanks to its convenient location and dozens of airline hubs.

Even in a global pandemic, major airports such as Heathrow and Gatwick continue to serve thousands of passengers daily, especially those transiting to their next destination.

However, what’s it like to transit or stop on a layover in the UK during a pandemic? Are travellers allowed to leave the airport? What requirements are there to know beforehand?

Travellers will find all these answers (and more!) in our practical guide to UK airports.

Likewise, before you start packing your bags, be sure to find out if you need a UK tourist visa.

Layovers Versus Transiting Through the Airport

Before we get into the fine details, there are two very important terms to know when transiting through the airport or enjoying a layover in the UK. Knowing the difference can make your trip easy and stress-free.

There are two parts to a typical airport: ‘airside’ and ‘landside.’

  • Airside - This is the part travellers arrive at and is so-called because it is to the side of the aeroplanes. To stay ‘airside’ means that you do not pass through any immigration or border controls before you depart for your next flight.

  • Landside - If you wish to enter the UK, you will need to pass through border control. After you have passed immigration, you are ‘landside.’
Most transit travellers are only at the airport for a few hours before their next flight leaves. On the other hand, travellers on a layover may opt to stay in the UK for a few days to explore before they leave for their next destination.

Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, there is a subtle difference.

Now that we have that cleared up, let’s move onto the current UK airport entry restrictions.

Entry requirements for the United Kingdom

At the moment, there are two requirements for travellers transiting through a UK airport.

The first is to fill out a passenger locator form, which a traveller can submit any time within the 48 hours before they arrive in the UK.

Likewise, all international arrivals are required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test. This must be taken within 72 hours before departing for the UK. This applies to all passengers, including those who are transiting through the UK.

Travellers will need to show their passenger locator form and negative test results when they check in to board their plane. Not having one or either of those documents may mean that the visitor will be refused from boarding their flight.

Can travellers go outside the airport?

Those who have a long layover (i.e. a day or more) in the UK are allowed to leave the airport (go ‘landside’). However, these travellers will be required to self-isolate for the duration of their layover and until they can get back to the airport and take their outbound flight.

What’s it like to transit through a UK airport?

Transiting UK During Pandemic Although airports in the UK are still operating, there are modified coronavirus rules and amenities for travellers and staff.

Every airport requires that travellers wear a face covering, maintain the proper social distance between others, and sanitize their hands regularly.

The airports are doing their part to keep passengers and staff safe by installing hand sanitizer units, enhanced cleaning in the terminals, and putting up protective screens between kiosks and customer-facing areas.

To make it easier to navigate between terminals and transit zones, there are special floor markings and signs (such as the famous ‘purple signs’ in Heathrow) to guide travelers on where to go. Likewise, there are special ‘social distance’ markings on the floor so that passengers are able to maintain the proper 2 meters (6.5 ft) distance between others.

While each airport is different, the majority of UK airports are still operating duty free shops, cafes, and mini stores. This is great for those who want to grab a quick bite to eat and pass the time while waiting in transit.

Although the pandemic has had a significant impact in the way we travel, these tips are a great way to prepare yourself for a layover or transit through the United Kingdom.

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Any facts, figures or references stated here are made by the author & don't reflect the endorsement of iU at all times unless otherwise drafted by official staff at iU. This article was first published here on 18th May 2021.

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