HomeTravelSimon Calder answers your travel questions on cruise Covid rules and much...

Simon Calder answers your travel questions on cruise Covid rules and much more


Cruise controls

Q: Can I go on a Caribbean cruise if I have not been Covid vaccinated?

Caz

A: lt all depends. Sorry if that’s not helpful, but the rules vary across cruise lines and the destinations en route. P&O Cruises says: “All guests aged 18 years and over need to be fully vaccinated.” That means at least two weeks before travel, and if the first course was more than 270 days before the last day of the cruise, they must have a booster at least a week before departure.

Yet P&O’s sister company, Carnival, promises: “Vaccines and testing no longer required for most cruises. Unvaccinated guests are free to disembark and enjoy their time ashore. However, certain destinations have imposed certain restrictions and we cannot guarantee that more will not be added.”

On a Carnival voyage to destinations with travel restrictions, you will be allowed to board the ship – but you must stay on the vessel at ports of calls with mandatory vaccination rules. At present, in the Caribbean, you need to be vaccinated to be allowed off the ship in Grand Turk (part of the Turks & Caicos, north of Hispaniola) and the Colombian port of Cartagena – which would be a very significant loss, since this is the loveliest Spanish city in the Americas.

Royal Caribbean says testing is required for everyone aged 12 or over on “Cruises from the US and Caribbean with stops in Colombia, Haiti, or Honduras”.

Meanwhile, Norwegian Cruise Line says: “As government regulations evolve, our health and safety protocols will evolve as needed to ensure compliance. This may mean different protocols from ship to ship based on local requirements.”

Finally, Fred Olsen has some strict rules: “All guests aged 12 and above must be fully vaccinated to join us on board. All guests will need to bring proof of a negative test result, taken within 24 hours of your cruise departure, to show at check-in.

“If you have been in contact with anyone with Covid-19 within seven days prior to your cruise, we are afraid you will not be able to sail with us.”

Given the range of policies and continuing uncertainty, I would not advise anyone who is classed as unvaccinated to book a cruise – especially involving a number of different countries, as Caribbean voyages tend to be.

Changing planes

Q: We’re flying to Orlando from Dublin. We’re flying United changing in Washington picking up another United flight. We’re having to pay for hold luggage at Dublin at check-in. Is there a way to get our luggage to go straight through to Orlando rather than having to collect at Washington and recheck it?

Rich

A: As a hand-baggage only person, I’m not absolutely sure – but I believe the situation is as follows. Normally on arrival in the US you have to pick up all your bags and lug them through Customs before re-checking them on your connecting flight.

But Ireland is different. I’m a fan of travelling to the US via Dublin because you pass through Customs & Border Protection at the first point of entry. Aer Lingus says: “You simply collect your baggage at your US arrival airport and get on with your day.”

I believe, though, that through-checked baggage is not possible. With hand luggage, it’s not an issue: as soon as you arrive in Washington you are regarded as a domestic arrival and can go straight to your connecting flight. But the limit on Aer Lingus is a minimal 7kg.

Q: Our flight home from Seattle was cancelled after sitting for six hours on the Tarmac. We were told the earliest flight they could offer was four days later. I needed to get home for work commitments, so we booked an Aer Lingus flight ourselves via Dublin. Cost: £2,800! I’ve put in a claim with the airline for the Aer Lingus costs. I’ve not heard any decision as yet. Reading on forums, etc I feel I’m not going to get my £2,800 back. Any advice please?

A: Many airlines appear to be in no hurry at all to recompense the tens of thousands of out-of-pocket passengers. These carriers were told at the start of the summer rush what they had to do when a flight was cancelled, specifically finding alternative flights as soon as possible. But they have ignored the stipulations sent out by the Civil Aviation Authority with impunity.

I wrote to the previous transport secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, to ask what action she would take. She had not replied by the time she was fired by the new prime minister, Rishi Sunak. I shall ask Mark Harper, her replacement, but I detect no appetite whatsoever for enforcing consumer protection.

The only problem I can see with retrieving your £2,800 is: if that is the figure for two of you, that looks very expensive and you could face a demand to show why you had to pay that much. In such circumstances you should always try to provide a screen grab showing there was no choice.

If you believe you have a legal claim against any company, you can usually get their attention by writing a Letter Before Action and then, if there is no response, going to Money Claim Online.

Passport timing

Q: Any idea what is the current (renewal) passport turnaround time?

B Cleeve

A: At the risk of this session turning into a long sequence of pointing out the inadequacies of the government and its agencies, it won’t be nearly as bad as applicants are led to believe.

His Majesty’s Passport Office warns: “Allow up to 10 weeks to receive your passport.”

But that appears to be an exercise in bottom-covering. For the vast majority of straightforward renewals, with applications made online, two weeks is more likely – with many saying they get their passports much quicker than that.

Kent checks

Q: Any update on technical solutions to the challenges presented by application of the Entry Exit System for le Shuttle and x-channel car ferry passengers?

Paul M

A: Sadly, no, but if your MP supported Brexit then I suggest you ask them for the solution they had it mind at the time they voted on the EU withdrawal agreement.

The Brexit treaty made the UK a “third country” with strict controls on entry and exit. At Dover, frontier controls are “juxtaposed” with French officials conducting checks on British soil.

Next summer, tougher border checks that the UK helped develop while a member of the European Union will apply to British passport holders. Under the Entry Exit System, each time a third-country national crosses an EU external border, the system will register the date and place of entry and exit. Fingerprints and a facial biometric will also be checked.

Doug Bannister, chief executive of the Port of Dover boss told MPs last month: “We haven’t seen what the process is, we don’t know what the technology is.”

Mark Harper, the new transport secretary, presumably knows a solution for ferries and Eurotunnel. In 2019, he voted against the soft (-ish) Brexit proposed by then-prime minister Theresa May. It might have avoided the need for everyone to be photographed and fingerprinted at the hard border that the UK later insisted upon – and which Mr Harper supported.

“Government’s main task is to make sure that our future relationship with the EU is the best possible one for serving the British people, our goals and our interests.”

He called Brexit “an opportunity for our country to spread its wings.”`

Rail woes

Q: My daughter is heading back to university on Sunday with a pre-booked GWR ticket from London Paddington to Plymouth. Where does she stand if her train is cancelled? She has to get back for lectures on Monday, so really needs to travel Sunday.

Mary B

A: A reminder: the main rail union, the RMT, has called another round of strikes in its battle with Network Rail and 14 train operators on pay, jobs and working conditions. Staff working for Network Rail will walk out tomorrow (5 November), on Monday (7 November) and on Wednesday (9 November).

Those employed by the train operators, including GWR, will stop work tomorrow and on Wednesday.

On the day after a strike, morning trains are messed up – with the early rush hour usually wiped out until signallers clock in and rolling stock is back where it needs to be. But the only GWR train from London Paddington to Plymouth that I can see affected on Sunday morning is the 7.52am departure. If she is booked on this one and needs to be back in a hurry, she can travel earlier (7.18am) on the Elizabeth Line from Paddington to Reading and onwards from there on GWR.

All the later journeys are unaffected – which makes it all the more bizarre that GWR is keen to deter passengers on the days after strikes. The train operator says: “Avoid travelling and seek alternative ways to make your journey.” Other rail firms are taking a similar view.

A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group told me: “Nobody in this industry wants to see passengers driven off trains, but with the RMT continuing to call these damaging strikes, it is rail companies’ responsibility to keep as many trains running as possible and to be realistic about the extent of the likely disruption on what will be very limited services, so that the railway can operate safely and our passengers can make informed decisions about their journeys.”

I hope and expect your daughter will have a smooth and relaxing trip – if people take notice of GWR, her train will probably be very empty.

BA grumbles

Q: Our recent flight from Rhodes was put back 24 hours and, whilst BA put us up in an hotel and paid for meals, we received no other compensation other than additional car parking expenses at Heathrow Terminal 5. BA have rejected our claim for compensation as they say the inbound aircraft had to make a forced landing due to ‘technical reasons’ which we are led to understand was a bird strike compromising the aircraft’s safety.

Does this seem reasonable given the EU’s scheme which we have signed up to concerning delayed flights?

SmartMart59

A: Sorry to hear it. British Airways has performed its duty of care under European air passengers’ rights rules. The onus on BA is to pay compensation (£350 in this case) unless it can provide a comprehensive explanation of why it shouldn’t have to do so. So please ask.

Indian visas

Q: Any update or progress on the Indian visa farce? Booked to travel in December and have an appointment booked 150 miles away from where I live later this month for Visa processing. Would be nice to think that a solution is not far away!

Ceri

A: Sadly there is no change: British travellers are still barred from obtaining an eVisa for easy entry to India, and must attend an in-person interview. More background here.

B Cleeve added: “If of any use, attended VFS Birmingham last Wednesday. Absolute chaos but none the less received email this morning saying my passport and visa back for courier posting/collection.”

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