The Cote d'Azur Stayers Hurdle

It did not take Simon Calder's Travel Week blog for the interested to register that now was the time to book plane tickets. Imminently no more need to quarantine on return from France. Double-jabbed folk, this way please to the BA website.

Yet it would not be as simple as turning up and handing in passport. Hurdles to surmount, and failure to comply would mean bye bye boarding.

First comes need to show evidence of double vaccination, the so-called Health Pass without which I might not, had the Government enforced this, have been able to go clubbing in Camden. Getting the evidence requires access not to the NHS Covid app but to the NHS app itself. No cause for confusion there.

The app is relatively easy to set up, and comes with the added bonus of access to all of your NHS medical records. For the latter you get a spoiler alert before you are in, but once in the stuff is there in gory detail, including the information that your GP never volunteered to share with you. Incidentally, it also contains your 'fragility index', which must be the nearest thing to telling you your life expectancy. The Health Pass can be printed but can also be saved on your smartphone. God help you if you don't have a smartphone. But don't activate the Pass too early before you leave or it will run out of date while you are away.

Next is the 'Sworn Undertaking to Comply with Rules for Entry into Metropolitan France', searchable on the internet under 'Bloody Difficult French Form'. I jest, as the form is pretty straightforward, although I mused on 'sworn'. This turns out not to be something signed in the presence of a solicitor or notary, where lying becomes perjury: it is simply a series of statements 'on my honour' . Whose honour? Scout's honour? The honour of a member of the Cabinet? Cogitate not - just sign and be ready to present it for the day of travel.

So I am ready to travel. But no, I am not, because I need to organise my Day 2 PCR test for on return. And it turns out that you don't have to have it done on Day 2 of your return, just any time up to the end of Day 2 after return. Which is a great relief for a former practising lawyer, as it saved me from having to decide if Day 2 includes or excludes the day of arrival. True enough you could arrange a home test, but I am that manually undexterous that I decided to splash out £75 -  a mere bagatelle - to get the test done professionally, plus you get a nice little official reference code, which must surely be of help down the line.

One more thing to do if you are with BA, and a good one. It is useful to get the Verifly app, where you enter all your flight and vaccination info, and as result get a beautiful green tick which is guaranteed to get you straight through check-in, but will it (you can't check in online)?

So I am definitely now ready to travel, but having told everyone I am leaving on a Monday morning, I find (at 4am on the Monday morning) that for the first time in my life I have got the date wrong and that I am leaving on the Tuesday morning. Quelle horreur! I tentatively checked with BA to see if I could switch to a later flight on Monday...which I could...and amazingly there was no charge, the poor things I assume being desperate to get us all travelling again.

That apprehensive moment on entering the terminal at London City. Me, the great fumbler, had paperwork ready and phone ready. None of it needed - the BA lady took my passport, checked me in, issued Boarding Pass, and off went my case. That green tick was doing the job, and she shot me a dismissive glance as I checked if that was all.

Lovely flight, on time. Managed to move seat to a spare row, and was even offered a second small bottle of wine, something I cannot recall previously in Club Europe. However, let us not get complacent. Surely the trouble would come on arrival in Nice.

Silly billy! Despite being at the back of the bus and so off the craft virtually last - there had to be some penalty for my incompetence - it was a doddle. I approached Passport Control with passport and sworn statement. The official looked at the former but waved away the latter in a way that only the French can do. And you get a stamp - what's not to like?

I should say something about Covid control in France. First, masks inside shops, restaurants, galleries etc are mandatory. And that means mandatory. None of this namby pamby British use your judgement stuff. The other control is the checking of your Health Pass, or Passe Sanitaire en francais, at least for larger establishments. Yes, like me you were wondering whether the Brit QR code would work, or whether Priti Patel's alter ego would be ready to turn you round as an illegal. Also what is checking? Would the meeter and greeter dangle your printout with a cry of 'What iz zis? 'Non' - despite we and them not being best mates, the Brit pass turned out to be scannable sans probleme (presumably only to secure reciprocity for the French in the UK). Anyway, in my ghastly middle-class way I knew it should be ok from friends who were already out in Cannes.

Time to enjoy the holiday...but there was the still small voice reminding you that there were the formalities to observe for return. First there was getting a negative Covid test within three days before travel, and of course not earlier than then. On scrutiny it looked as though the test could be done, say, on a Tuesday for travel on the Thursday immediately following. Anyway, the testing establishment would confirm. But also said only 'Covid test'. What sort of test, only lateral flow/antigen, or PCR, the main distinction being cost as many of you will know? I read and read and decided that there was nothing saying that it had to be PCR.

And it turned out I was right, as I arrived at one of the testing stations. A word on these - there are scores of them dotted around roadsides, little white criminal incident-type tents, as well as facilities in pharmacies. However, for my one, outside a major supermarket on the edge of La Napoule, I was treated to a test en plein air, the weather being so good. The swab up your nose is perhaps preferable to the gagging experience of swab down your throat, but not as done by this chap, who rammed the swab so far up that I thought it was going to emerge at the back of my skull. Thus entertainment all round, especially for the two young women sitting nearby trying to flog further education courses. 

Now it was only the Passenger Location Form to complete. Online. And no earlier than 48 hours before departure, so no chance to take a run at it. It was a beast, not helped by the Government website booting me out at regular intervals, but it got done, and sure there was the starring moment for that PCR test reference.

On arrival at Nice Airport more than the two hours before departure, the queue at check-in was already in place. For the easy passage I have to thank the elderly couple at the front of the line. They took nearly 20 minutes to be processed, but it resulted in an exasperated airport official heading up the queue to pre-check. Yet no scanning, merely a cursory look at the Covid test and the Passenger Locator form, and the at desk luggage thing took no more time than normal. 

You are probably now as tired reading this as I was at that point, but if you are still with me you will be wondering about the review of the Passenger Locator Form on arrival. All I can say is that I breezed through the E-passport gate at Heathrow T5. It can only have been because the Locator form must have been connected to my passport. Yet no one told any of us that.

Hurdles overcome. In all this there was as much luck as judgement. Demonstrated by the Heathrow E-passport gates failing the following morning, leaving long queues. 

PS The PCR test was negative. I am released back into polite society. I thought you would want to know.

PPS The rules are about to change again. Do concentrate!


The author is a writer, historian, sometime tour guide, and a former partner of a City law firm.