I am going to cover my great escape in a lot of detail because so many people have asked me to. Either because they too are having problems getting home, or just because they want to know what they might expect if they do need to visit the UK and return for any reason. My experience I hasten to add is just mine; with the frequent changes announced by governments everywhere, it is not to be relied on. Still, here we go. The plane journeys!
February 1 I got up at 3am and had a very good hose down and do-up in the bathroom mirror. It was going to be a long day. How long I didn’t know yet, but I knew it would be quite a haul and I wanted to look presentable.
At 5am on the dot James drove me to Manchester airport. The flight was at 8am, but I wanted to be early, not knowing what to expect in terms of Covid and checks. The darkness was icy cold, but fresh. I love the mornings, the re-birth of the world to me, that strange peace that hangs in the stillness. I however did not feel peaceful this day, quite the opposite. If I made it to Spain, it would be a miracle, or so it seemed. There had been a number of scare stories in the press about residents not being allowed back home.
In a brown manila A5 envelope I had all the following required documents plus a few extra just in case:
1 negative PCR test (£175!)
1 green tatty Spanish residency card with a non-tatty scan done when I first received it 6 years ago
1 certificate from my town hall confirming my registration of 8 years in Atzeneta
1 Spanish driving license
1 Spanish health card
2 different locator forms with my Spanish address for both Ireland and Spain, digitally and printed
2 boarding cards digitally and printed
1 letter confirming I was entitled to travel from the Spanish Embassy
Um, I think that is it. No! Additionally:
1 airport parking ticket for my car
1 Ave high-speed train ticket from Madrid to Valencia
1 copy of my Spanish property tax receipt 2020 to prove my residence
Not wanting to miss any connections I packed one shoulder bag only. It was of exactly the allowed dimensions, but weighed 15 kilos due to my aging heavy laptop. Thank God (I say this a lot recently) that Ryanair has stopped weighing baggage. Gone were my favourite Pjs, most clothes and all my bras. In fact almost everything had been sacrificed due to said paperwork, some vital prescription medicine, knickers and the aging computer. At no point did I want to be seen to be struggling to zip the bag up. My absolutely favourite clothes were on my body in layers, topped by a winter coat with deep pockets. Naturally these were jammed with stuff too. I’m going to make a confession. I have discovered that airport security scanners never flag makeup and small tubes in coat pockets. That little plastic bag is just pathetic.
At 5.45am hubby deposited a very nervous me inside the airport. It was mostly deserted. Only WH Smiths and Boots were open. Getting through security still took an inordinate amount of time. My medicines had to be tested, but it still did not explain how a trickle of people took so long to get through security. I offered my PCR test, but it was waived away. “We trust people here”, the security guard said while I waited 15 minutes for my meds to be returned. No one looked at my boarding pass or passport and no one asked where I was going.
It seemed very odd. An oddness heightened by provocative videos of sexualised models playing on columns all over the place.
At 7.30am I boarded the Ryanair flight to Dublin. At the door I was finally asked for the PCR, passport and boarding pass. Final destination and locator forms were not asked for. The plane was half-full which surprised me. Despite there being so much room available, we were crammed into seats next to each other with empty rows front and rear. A canned announcement kept on saying we had to remain in our allocated seats. This made no sense in terms of social distancing so when no one was looking and it appeared that the plane boarding had finished, I hopped across the aisle into an empty row. I got away with this Covid compliant decision and made the two ladies I left behind happier too.
The plane landed at Terminal 1 15 minutes ahead of schedule. Thank God! Hubby had told me Dublin Airport was huge, like a small town, and to be prepared. As soon as I disembarked, I swung my incredibly heavy bag onto my left shoulder and ran like mad. I ran and panted through endless passageways, and down moving belts, puffing excuse-me to startled passengers along the way, hoisting my slipping bag back onto my shoulder and cursing all the layers I had put on. Every bit of my body hurt already, on top of which I was boiling hot and must have looked like a tomato-red banshee.
Passengers who self-connect need to pass through passport control and then re-enter departure through customs. As fate would have it, Terminal 1 and customs were located at opposite ends of this small town. And my next flight was at, yes you guessed it, Terminal 1. Not surprisingly I reached passport control totally out of breath and frantic, especially in light of the queue ahead. Luckily 2 men at the front took pity on this withering demented lady and indicated that I could go ahead of them. If it were not for that act of kindness, I would have missed my connection. Somewhere I must have done something good.
I stepped up to the immigration officer who took my proffered passport and gave me a bemused look. Clearly my attempts to look presentable that morning were completely wasted. “Locator”, he asked. I handed him the slip. “Ah, so you are going to Spain,” he stated pleasantly. “Yes”, and my flight leaves in 30 minutes, I replied as explanation for my wild look. “PCR negative test please.” I handed it over. “Very good, now your TIE or green residence card please.” And I handed that over ,thinking goodness he is on the ball – thank God! He looked over the ratty bit of paper carefully and returned it to me. “Go, girl, go – you don’t want to miss your flight!”
And I took off like a malfunctioning firecracker towards security, which luckily did not take long, and then ran and ran back to Terminal 1 and collapsed in a chair to catch my breath. Boy was I hot. Sweat trickled down the back of my neck and I felt prickly. The flight was boarding already. It suddenly occurred to me that the fast track I had paid for had not been in evidence. A twinge of “Ryanair annoyance” passed through me. I was sold something that did not exist.
Never mind. I was allowed on the flight after presenting my boarding card and PCR. No locator requested. No green card either. Seat number 27B, middle of two girls again. Plane half-full again. Escaped to empty row again. Was incredulous re Ryanair’s seating policy in Covid times again. Fell asleep, relieved, finally feeling I would get home…
Two and a half hours later I was queuing at passport control in Madrid. It was 13.40. I had all my documents ready but the immigration officer wasn’t interested in them. “Solo el pasaporte”, he grunted. Okay, okay, I thought, a bit puzzled. Hardly looking at it, he waived me through. Somehow I felt a bit cheated. I WANTED someone to see how much care I had taken.
Ah, but it was not over. I woman approached and shooed me towards a right side queue. I came to a table. “Covid form please!” I handed it over. “No, it has to look like this”, the woman replied. And she showed me a locator form with that square scan thing on it. “Oh, “ I contested, perhaps unwisely,” but that is a locator form”, and showed her mine on my phone. “No,” the woman insisted, “It is Covid form. It is good. Now go to right”.
Even I knew (rare) when to keep my mouth shut. A nurse emerged from the left and steered me to what in normal times would be a luggage-repacking table after passing through security. She pointed a thermometer beam at my sticky sweaty forehead and asked for my negative PCR certificate and that was that. I was let out into the freedom of Spain and apart from the bemused immigration officer in Dublin, no one had asked for my TIE or tatty green card! The whole setup seemed very slipshod TBH, but I was delighted. I cannot tell you how happy I was to be on home ground. So far my escape had gone according to plan!
Next – getting across Spain.