BRITISH holidaymakers celebrated with drinks in the sun today after jetting to Gibraltar on the first ‘green list’ flight.
Airports across the UK saw huge crowds and long queues this morning as Brits headed abroad on holiday for the first time this year.
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From today, holidays abroad are no longer illegal, meaning families can travel to a number of destinations which are on the UK's green list and avoid quarantining on return to England.
The flight to Gibraltar – the first since announcement that the overseas British territory was a green list country – touched down just 24 hours after the government announced zero active resident and visitor Covid cases for the first time since July 21 last year.
Support worker Lynne Wilson, 59, clinked glasses with husband David and her Rock-based daughter Kelly Dolan, 33, after a tearful airport reunion with toddler granddaughter Gabriela.
Lynne, 59, from Cambridge, gushed: “Last time I saw her was at Christmas when Kelly came to the UK.
“Gabriela couldn’t walk then so this is a very emotional moment for me.
“She started walking on April 1 and she’s been running since then.
“We booked last year for May 11 but that flight got cancelled and we rebooked for today.
“We’re here for six days and we’re going to make the most of the sunshine and being with family again.”
Fuel service engineer David, sipping his first pint in near-eighty degree Fahrenheit heat at a bar in Gibraltar’s iconic Casemates Square, added: “This beer tastes great.
“The sun makes it feel so much better. It was cold and raining when we left London.”
Mark Walker, enjoying his first pint in a neighbouring terrace bar a few feet away with wife Jo before checking into their nearby hotel after coming in on the same flight, added: “We left our home in Devon at midnight because we weren’t sure how chaotic the airport would be and we knew parts of the M4 were closed.
Mark Walker, enjoying his first pint in a neighbouring terrace bar a few feet away with wife Jo, added: “We left our home in Devon at midnight because we weren’t sure how chaotic the airport would be and we knew parts of the M4 were closed.
“We got to Heathrow around 4am and we haven’t had any sleep. But it’s been worth it so far. It’s great being able to travel again.
“We normally take several short breaks abroad every year. We were booked to be on the Greek island of Skiathos right now but when that got cancelled I decided to try booking Gibraltar last month because I thought it would be a dead cert for the green list and I wasn’t wrong.”
Jo, 50, added: “Mark’s been here twice on day trips years ago but it’s my first time on the Rock.
“It’s just nice to get away and be in the sun. The weather was decent in Devon in April but it was a rotten May.
“That’s why we stopped off for a drink before we got to the hotel and we’re still lugging our suitcases.
“We’ll savour this first pint, and maybe a second, and then do the check-in.
“We’ve got a walking tour booked for Wednesday and I imagine we’ll make it to the top of the Rock at some point to see the Barbary apes.
“But basically we’re just looking forward to a relaxing six days away after so long without a holiday.”
Finance director Max Arks, 36, the first off the flight with pal Warwick Howard, 37, said: “It’s the first chance we’ve had to go on holiday for ages so we just thought, ‘Why not!’
“I’ve come to see friends and mix a bit of pleasure with business. We’ll have a few beers while we’re here.”
Luke Barnard, 26, who flew in from his home in Chelmsford, Essex, to get married on the Rock with fiancee Alexa Turner, 23, from Cincinnati, Ohio, added: “Getting married in the US was going to be very difficult and Gibraltar seemed a great option.
“We’re getting married on Wednesday in the Registry Office and we’re staying in the Rock Hotel.
“It was something we had already planned but the fact Gibraltar was put on the UK’s green list is a relief because you’re always a little bit concerned about what’s going to happen at the moment when you book a trip abroad.”
Alexa, who did five days’ quarantine after flying in from the States three weeks ago, added: “The flight was about 90 per cent full and there were quite a lot of tourists on it.
“When we left Heathrow it was raining and cold and only about 12 degrees Celsius so we’re looking forward to feeling the sun on our faces.
“We’re here till Thursday and we’re going to make the most of every minute.”
All Gibraltar's adult population have been offered vaccines and thousands of Spanish workers who cross the busy border every day for work have also received both their jabs.
The sun makes it feel so much better. It was cold and raining when we left London.
The last records released yesterday showed the total number of vaccines administered were 74,461 – 38,905 first dose and 35,556 second dose.
A last-minute Gibraltar Government vaccination change in policy meant holidaymakers and Gib residents on the first green list plane this morning discovered they still had to be tested for Covid despite saying they had been told before their trip no tests were needed.
Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo boasted on Sky TV earlier this month British holidaymakers jetting to the Rock would not need PCR tests.
But he was due to announce this afternoon air arrivals from the UK would continue to have to undergo testing for Covid-19 upon arrival in Gibraltar because of concerns over the spread of the Indian variant of the virus in the UK.
Passengers on flight BA492 were today offered free – but mandatory – quick lateral flow tests after reaching the Rock unless they could provide negative PCR tests.
Nick Tree, a former BA airport manager from Stratford-upon-Avon in the West Midlands, said after arriving in Gib: “I paid for a PCR test in the UK 10 minutes before the Gibraltar Government changed the technical notice and said no test was required.
“I touched down to be told the policy had changed while we were in the air and I had to go to a Portakabin outside the terminal to be swabbed.
“When I said I’d got a negative PCR test which is the most reliable type of test there is I was told to upload it online so local officials were aware.”
Another passenger on the flight added: “It was all a bit chaotic. We boarded the flight thinking we’d need nothing and arrived to find we had to be tested because of a last-minute change of policy.
“The immigration officials were telling us to start with when we touched down they could only let us in if we booked a lateral flow test online but when we tried through the app we were told there would be a charge.
“In the end we got through and had it done for free.”
Warwick Howard, from Fenny Drayton in Leicestershire, said: “We were caught a bit blindsided by the test requirement but I’m happy to comply.
“It’s a simple test and very little hassle for something which at the end of the day helps to keep everyone safe.”
British Airways tweeted shortly after flight BA492 landed: “This morning our first flight from Heathrow Airport to Gibraltar took off at 07:10am, the airline’s first flight to a ‘green list’ destination.”
Sean Doyle, British Airways Chairman and CEO, said: “Today, the first day of a return to international travel, is a special day for many people, because for so long now families have been separated, business has suffered, and we know that our customers haven’t been able to take the breaks abroad that they’ve wanted. After more than a year of limited flying, we’re pleased to be back in the skies – albeit with a very small number of flights.”
Joe Acris, duty manager at Gibraltar Airport said after watching Lynne Wilson’s tearful reunion with her granddaughter: “Moments like this make my job worthwhile, seeing people smiling and crying with happiness after the difficult times we’ve been through with this pandemic.”
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