With everything that is going on in the world, I set out to see my family and my country after two years of being absent from “La Tierra del Encanto”. It wasn’t easy planning since the current man-made pandemic has caused governments regulation to be unpredictable.
As an Airline Fares Specialist, I arrange all my personal and business trips myself. So today I’d like to share with you my travel tales and travails trying to reach Colombia during these uncertain times..Love for Colombia in the Times of a Pandemic: A keen flyer finds her way home.
Initially, I had planned to fly with Avianca, which is the only airline operating direct flights from London to Bogota. However, due to the lack of support that this airline has had with the travel trade in the UK during the current pandemic, I decided to abandon my reservation and plan my journey with Iberia as an alternative. Little did I know back then that direct flights to Colombia would be later banned due to a new variant of the youknowwhich virus.!.
Travelling with Iberia of course, would involve travelling via Madrid as Iberia’s main airport hub. I reserved it in October but only issued my airline ticket at the beginning of December, which was the latest time limit I had to do so.
Unfortunately, news of a new variant strain of COVID-19 caused the whole of Europe to impose difficult travel restrictions to passengers from the UK. Later on, some other countries outside Europe also implemented such restrictions.
So, I was supposed to be flying with Iberia, right? Therefore, via Madrid, Spain. Close to my travel dates, I kept on continuously checking the regulations. According to the latest UK foreign travel advice, which I checked just before travelling, I realised that Spain was among the countries denying entry to UK passengers. I was, however, confident that connecting only was going to be acceptable since there was no official statement announcing otherwise.
24 hours before my flight, as I always do when travelling, I accessed Iberia web check-in to secure my window seat. Unfortunately, Iberia’s website did not allow me, there was only a warning about potential disruption, I sighed but did not worry much at that stage since Iberia’ website crashes often so I assumed it was just another glitch.
Next morning I showed up for check-in at Heathrow Terminal 5, but to my shock, I was denied entry. ! 🤦🏻♀️. The London Madrid initial leg of my itinerary was operated by British Airways, as a code-share, I’d used it to build my itinerary.
Some British Airways employees were checking papers prior to allowing access to the counter, and were equipped with a piece of paper, apparently a new Spanish regulation, which stated that not even connections were allowed via Spain. I was told that the only way I would be allowed to do my journey to Colombia via Madrid, was if I had both Spanish and Colombian passports. I then deduced that the curly shape of C-19 is so bright as to identify passports when it targets infections.. It didn’t make sense to me but nevertheless I did not lose hope.
I then provided evidence of my super expensive negative PCR test result, taken by UKAS official test provider, which I had taken less than 45 hours before my trip, however, they still did not accept me and denied me boarding. Not their fault but I realised then that common sense was lost.
On top of that, there was no Iberia staff available to assist passengers with last-minute advice related to changes or alternatives. I was simply advised in a very politely-sarcastic tone that I needed to contact Iberia call centre and sort it out that way. I decided to avoid arguing and take matters into my hands.
After 9 months of assisting travellers with fixing similar issues, I found it challenging not to let the stress of these uncertain times get to me. But rather than looking for someone to blame and criticising government responses and individual airlines and staff, I decided change my thoughts and pretend I was my own customer and simply asked “what would Jenny do?.
As my own travel planner, last-minute changer. I opened my mobile travel desk and travel buddy, (my laptop) .I sat in a relatively quiet Heathrow T5 corner and started a speedy travel search for routes using my GDS, Amadeus. But before that I documented my experience with Iberia, cancelled and requested a full refund of that ticket.
My speedy last-minute search involved checking all possible options in Amadeus, which is much quicker for me than researching online and also checking actual government regulations on various government websites. My typing fingers crossed several European hubs but still found no possible options due to similar difficult regulation. I found several options via the USA but as you might know, this country has been denying entry to UK passengers from the beginning of the pandemic so their restriction isn’t actually blamed on the new variant.
I then checked options via South America but the main hubs such as Santiago in Chile, Buenos Aires in Argentina and Rio and São Paulo in Brazil recently had copycat European restrictions on the denial of UK passengers. I also checked via Mexico as this only request travellers to have a negative PCR. Sadly, this route via Mexico was overpriced, and besides, I would have needed to buy an additional flying leg for Mexico to Bogota with either Avianca or Aeromexico. I was not comfortable with this, as I mentioned before, I am not keen to travel with Avianca, and with Aeromexico I was not so keen either given their Chapter 11 deteriorating situation added to their current tensions with their pilots. My instinct told me not to follow that route.
I then remembered that Turkish Airlines started operations to Bogota in 2016! This option wasn’t automatically shown in my Amadeus availability search, so I had to force it using the /TK (Turkish airline IATA Code), and voila!!!, it then showed up! by then it was 10 am and I still had to confirm that Turkey would allow UK passengers connections via Istanbul, as there was no clarity about it on any government website.
This Turkish Airline flight was due to depart 11:35! So, I had extremely limited time to think, decide and run from Heathrow Terminal 5 to Heathrow Terminal 2! Which involved taking me and my three pieces of baggage via the Underground! Phew ! What a rush! but I managed.
I reserved my journey in Amadeus, but before issuing the ticket I checked with Turkish Airlines staff if my journey would be allowed. The supportive lady at the checking counter took the time to do all the checks and then confirmed to me that I was indeed possible to do pursue the the whole journey. She only asked me to show her the Check-Mig registration and that was all. Phew!
Even though taking a Euro-Asian country as a route to Latin America is completely out of the normal, for me it was great indeed. Istanbul Havalimanı proved to be an excellent connecting hub. This is a brand-new, with state-of-the-art facilities, replaced the old-overwhelmed Istanbul Ataturk in April 2019.
The flight from London Heathrow to Istanbul took 3.5 hours, the layover 7 hours, which I used to enjoy the spacious VIP lounge and to do some last-minute shopping for my beautiful niece. The long-haul flight from Istanbul to Bogota took 13.5 hours. The whole journey, even though, much longer than via any of the normal European hubs, was perfectly fine. As some of you might know, I enjoy exploring airlines, airports, routes, airplanes, so this was Disneyland to me.
I was blessed with good luck since I flew onboard the two latest-generation aircraft currently in the market, both are designed to reduce carbon emissions at least by 25%.
For the leg LHR-IST, I flew on the Airbus 350-900, a brand-new plane which Turkish Airlines just received less than three months ago. While boarding I was handed a hygiene kit with two small bottles of alcohol, wipes and few medical face-masks, which were of mandatory use. The flights attendant looked pretty much like my son’s favourite Nintendo game, “Among-US” check it out to find out what I am talking about! .
While sitting at my window seat I had the fortune to witness to most magnificent sunset : check it out:
As for the long haul flight IST-BOG I flew onboard the Boeing 787-900, the main competitor of the A350-900. After resting comfortably for over 10 hours, and when reaching over the Caribbean skies I then had to blessing to witness the most wonderful sunrise, 🥳. I had the feeling that was the universe giving me a welcoming greeting into the continent, I was truly delighted with this view.
The only small downside was that I was unable to have any decent meal onboard as due to the hurry of my trip, there was no time to order my vegan food, but then again, this was just a minor issue compared to the pleasure of a great journey onboard the most modern aircraft out there, and the chance of witnessing once again the beauty of earth skyline. What else could I ask?
Upon entering Colombia, there was a bit of an issue, as expected, due to the new variant strain regulations there were entry restrictions in place. I knew about this risk but I took it when deciding to come to Colombia at this particular time. I, however, had a feeling that upon my entry Colombian migration authorities’ common sense would prevail. It was my own risk and I was willing to take it, even though I could have been sent back to the UK if my documentation hadn’t had satisfied the authorities.
I was held for some questioning, I then provided evidence of my PCR negative test, which later on proved to be of help. This PCR test wasn’t actually a requisite to enter the Colombia at time of my entry (although, at the time of writing).
El Dorado airport has proved to be much more strict in following IATA / ICAO Covid Airports Guidelines , I was very impressed to see the spotlessly clean areas and constant disinfecting processes, well done Bogotá . Having travelled through various airports in Europe during 2020, I must say El Dorado is way ahead of them ! Who would have thought? Well done 👏
Health authorities checked the validity of my test, I had to be temperature checked, while they made some calls in and out. I assume they took all these precautions as I was the only passengers on that flight whose journey started in the UK, as mentioned it is not a typical route to travel to Colombia via Turkey.
After some internal discussions and further checks, migration authorities sound judgement prevailed and they allowed me enter the country…. I love it when my intuition proves to be right! I was requested to quarantine for 14 days, despite being Covid negative, but they allowed me in, so happy days for me. The End 😅
😅 Thanks for reading !
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. ” – Anthony Bourdain