Airport Covid checks: I followed the rules and had a test. Not a single official looked at it today

First we couldn’t upload our test results. Then only ‘one passenger in 20’ was being checked

Paris-Charles de Gaulle: at check-in I was asked for a passenger locator form but not my test result. Photograph: iStock/Getty

Paris-Charles de Gaulle: at check-in I was asked for a passenger locator form but not my test result. Photograph: iStock/Getty

 

This weekend I flew to Paris for a few days. To walk unfamiliar streets after so many months of being in the same neighbourhood was a joy. The joy ended yesterday afternoon when I tried to check in online for this morning’s flight.

Like everybody else arriving in Ireland, I would need a digital Covid certificate, to show I was fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid in the past 180 days; plus proof of either a certified negative antigen test, taken in the 48 hours before arrival, or a certified negative PCR test, taken in the 72 hours before arrival.

You can get antigen tests in pop-up tents around Paris. The tent that I went to, at Les Halles, in the centre of the city, was affiliated with Paris’s public hospital system. A test cost €30 on a Sunday, or €25 on a weekday.

I waited. And waited. I couldn’t check in without completing the form. I wasted two precious hours of a day in Paris trying to complete a process that seemed impossible to complete

The result – negative – was emailed to me. What would have happened if it had been positive? Would I have had to stay on at my hotel, to quarantine? What if it was booked out? It didn’t have a restaurant, so would I have needed to live on take-out three times a day for days? How much would all that have cost? What about missing work? I couldn’t find any Irish Government information about what to do if I tested positive abroad – even though the law of averages suggests this must be happening to some Irish people.

Before travelling I had downloaded Verifly, an app that Aer Lingus and other airlines use to enable their passengers to upload travel documents for pre-flight verification. This is where things began to go south. I uploaded my negative result. “Your Covid test is going through a manual review process. This is where we check to ensure it meets the necessary requirements. We will reply to you once the review process has been completed.” That’s what the app kept reporting. What was the point of getting an official test if this was what was happening after it was received?

So I waited. And waited. I couldn’t check in without completing the form. And I couldn’t complete the form without completing this step. I wasted two precious hours of a day in Paris trying to complete a process that seemed impossible to complete. So, rather than waste even more time, I decided to check in at the airport instead, something I hadn’t done in years.

This morning I arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport a good two hours before my 10.05am flight. There was a huge queue at the Aer Lingus desks. Nobody else I spoke to had been able to complete their Verifly forms, either, and everyone was frustrated and confused. One couple realised on Sunday that their antigen tests, for which they had paid €45 each, would be 48 hours and 10 minutes old by the time they arrived. In fact their tests were probably going to be even more out of date than they thought, as when the rules say a test must be taken in the 48 hours “before arrival”, that surely means arrival in Ireland, not arrival at the airport. But, again, who knows?

The couple, who had three small children, were extremely anxious about being refused boarding – no test centre had been open nearby on Sunday for them to get retested. They made it through.

 

A French passenger without a test, who appeared unaware of Ireland’s new entry requirements, was sent away to an airport pharmacy for testing. She wasn’t going to make the 10.05am flight – and, from the tears she was shedding, she knew it.

At check-in I wasn’t asked to produce my test. I was asked instead for a passenger locator form. The passenger at the next desk was asked for her test, so checks seem to be random. Check-in took about 75 minutes. Then there were long queues at border control, plus security to get through. I was not asked at border control for anything other than my passport. By then it was 9.55am – we had less than 10 minutes to get to the gate.

But the flight did not leave at 10.05am. It left at 10.50am, and even then not all passengers made it aboard.

Before we landed in Dublin one of the cabin crew announced: “Due to new Government regulations, passengers arriving into Ireland must produce a negative antigen or PCR test, or else face a fine of €5,000 or six months in prison. Welcome to Dublin.” (Later, I checked the Government website. It said that passengers who arrive without a negative result must quarantine at home and have a PCR test within 36 hours of arriving in Ireland. A fine and imprisonment could be imposed where an individual repeatedly failed to present the receipt for their passenger locator form.)

At passport control most passengers went through the automatic, biometric gates. I passed through a manned desk. I was not asked for my test result. Officials told a passenger at another desk that they are asking one in 20 passengers at passport control for proof of a negative test.

I asked my official if anyone was checking passengers who were going through biometric gates for their test results. “No, nobody,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “I don’t think these new rules will last long.”

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