The island of the “green list” which is a happy vision of pre-pandemic times
The captain of the TUI Airways flight from Gatwick to Funchal has a voice built on the kind of mannered solidity you’d expect to hear emerge from a cockpit. But here, on the first morning of 2021 when Brits are allowed to go on vacation abroad, his welcome aboard message is in your denominational tone. Last week, he explains, he and his co-pilot had a session in a simulator, to refresh their memories of what, notoriously, can be one of the most difficult landings in the Atlantic. “We may need a little more time to prepare,” he adds. “This is the first flight in a few months for all of us.
The cabin whispers its agreement. And a lot has changed in those “few months” – not least the basic health requirements that have even taken us “this far”. Although I have not yet moved a meter from my native soil, my trip is already three days in mind – having started with a PCR test to establish my Covid negativity before I arrived in Madeira. There will be two more – to facilitate my return to the UK – before my trip is officially over.
Testing, and the expense involved, will likely be as big an issue for UK tourists this summer as the key question of where they can get under the much-vaunted traffic light system; some of the companies on the list of government sanctioned test providers are currently asking for prices that are just as good as a swab in the nose. In this context, the giant of the sun and the sea Tui stole a step; not only by relaunching its operations on the first possible day (May 17), but by offering its customers testing packages – costing between £ 20 and £ 60 per person for greenlist countries – as part of the service. In times of confusion, this affordable simplicity should prove convincing.
If it is the delicate “how” of traveling in these strange times, the “where” is much less complicated. For now, the aforementioned UK Green List, unveiled with an almost audible sigh of anticlimax on May 7, contains just four realistic destinations – of which Portugal and its most beloved Atlantic island were the most anticipated. With reason. Madeira has been open to tourists, with some reservations, since mid-February – and now hopes to be a mainstay of a holiday season where possibilities are still limited.