Simon Calder answers 13 travel questions including when to arrive at the airport and when to book flights

·7 min read
Tempting time: La Candelaria area of Bogota, Colombia (Simon Calder)
Tempting time: La Candelaria area of Bogota, Colombia (Simon Calder)

When to book flights for 2023?

Q: Looking to go to Colombia in February 2023, travelling independently. When would you advise to book flights? Also any recommendations?

“Coopon”

A: Delighted to hear you are heading for the big, friendly nation of Colombia – which encapsulates many of the wonders of South America better than any other.

In terms of flights: the excellent nonstop link from London Heathrow to Bogota, the Colombian capital, is likely to be much more expensive than connecting alternatives. Also, I advise you not to start in Bogota, and so an “open jaw” itinerary will be preferable anyway: out to Cartagena, back from Bogota. Expect to pay around £800-£900, and book through a good travel agent. November will be a good time to look, and early January won’t be too late, there’s always the option of cheap-ish tickets to Florida and separate budget flights from there. I am seeing Heathrow -Miami returns for as little as £400, which you could use in connection with jetBlue and/or Spirit flights from Fort Lauderdale, just 20 miles north.

Recommendations: how long have you got? Start in Cartagena, the most miraculous Spanish city in South America and rival of Havana for title of greatest globally. Go east along the coast to Santa Marta and the amazing “Tayrona National Natural Park” –spectacular coastline, great beaches and hiking in the Sierra Nevada – the highest coastal mountain range in the world

Then fly south to Medellin, a high-altitude, high-energy city in the centre of some superb landscapes. Continue overland to Cali, self-styled salsa capital of the world, and to Popayan (another colonial masterpiece). Depending on your timing, you could even nip across to the Ecuadorian capital, Quito.

Leave the Colombian capital, Bogota, to last – you will need a certain street smartness to enjoy your time here to the full. The once-neglected but now restored Barrio La Candelaria, its historic heart, is the area to stay in and explore.

Q: We have some flight vouchers for BA from a US holiday in 2020. They expire September 2023.

We are wanting to use them for a June 2023 trip, is it better to book as soon as possible, or do you think prices will come down any once things settle down?

Anonymous

A: Air fares are all over the place at the moment, but certainly for June 2023 I wouldn’t dream of booking until March or April. At present British Airways and other airlines will be cashing in on people who are absolutely determined to get specific flights. If you can afford to be flexible, then wait – though with many other vouchers expiring in September 2023, there will probably be a fair amount of “voucherflation” – where travellers determined to redeem their holding bid up the cost of flights.

Passport guidance

Q: I am a British citizen with an Italian passports. If travelling to the UK, does the place of birth and residence (both UK) show that I have a right to live in the UK?

Alex 10

A: If you are a British citizen, you have the right to live in the UK, regardless of the nationality of the passport you happen to have.

Q: My partner has dual nationality as he was born in the US, so flies into the US on that and into the UK with his British passport. We have to enter the US separately - we are not married but have been together for 30 years. Am I allowed to go through US immigration with him as common law partner?

AC6661

A: I’m not an expert on US border law, but I suspect the answer is: officially no, but if you turn up at the US citizens’ lane with him you will probably be politely helped. You might also want to consider pre-clearance at Dublin, as I did on my current trip, which is a swift and easy experience and means you touch down in the US as a domestic passenger.

Q: My wife is an Irish citizen with an Irish passport, I have a British passport. I believe that the normal 90-day limit for a British citizen is waived when I am travelling with her but how is that recorded in my passport if I subsequently travel alone but I am exceeding the normal limit?

Brindlemeister

A: I haven’t studied the Schengen border code that closely, and I will endeavour to do so. Without time to check it all right now, the most likely scenario to me is that you and she can freely stay in an EU country where you have your main residence. But I may well be wrong.

US immigration

Q: My partner is awaiting the outcome of a US visitor visa application after his Esta was randomly revoked in 2019. Because the application is in progress he now can’t get a further Esta because of this. His interview was back in early April and they could give no indication of timings.

Do you have any sense of how long this usually takes to come through? He’s a UK citizen with no skeletons in the cupboard so should be fairly straightforward! He’s got family over there that he’d love to see but has been prevented from doing so due to this ridiculous and expensive error.

“Wednesday777”

A: Sorry to hear about his infuriating immigration issues. Random “Esta errors” are unfortunately frequent, and cause immense upset.

Can he meet the family in Canada? Their ETA is much friendlier (and cheaper).

Q: My second and last AstraZeneca vaccination was on 19 April last year. No boosters. Can I enter the US, or are my jabs deemed to be out-of-date? I can’t find any information on this.

Jolly

A: The US, like many other countries, is concerned only with the initial course of vaccinations. No booster necessary (though personally I recommend you have one).

Conversely, most European nations have set a 270-day expiry on the initial course, though boosters have no time limit at present.

Flight disruption

Q: We were supposed to fly from Florence to Edinburgh this weekend on British Airways. They took us and several other people off the flight to “lighten the plane,” at 8pm on a Sunday. The BA phone line was closed.

We had to find our own hotel and the next day the British Airways rep on the phone said the only flight they would offer was overnight on Tuesday with a long connection, arriving in Edinburgh on Wednesday.

I reminded them that they were legally obliged to get us home the same day but they refused to book us on flights that were not on “partner airlines”.

They would not help with hotels in the meantime. I booked on another airline to Glasgow (as it was half the price of a ticket to Edinburgh) and got a taxi home.

Are we still legally entitled to compensation/reimbursement. If they refuse it, what can we do?

Suzdow

A: Sorry to hear it. There may have been specific operational reasons for the offloading, though British Airways must always ask for volunteers – and that looks like £350 in compensation due to you.

In addition, as you say the airline is (a) responsible for finding you a hotel (and paying for your meals) and (b) providing a way for you to return to Scotland as swiftly as possible.

I cannot see that the airline can deflect a claim for the flight to Glasgow, though the taxi fare may be challenged if public transport was available.

French leave

Q: We are going to France on 22 August. Do we need proof of Covid vaccination? I have the paperwork/digital records for the adults in the party but not my 12-year-old grandson and his sister aged eight.

Sujeri

A: Happily, starting this month everything is easy for France. The Foreign Office says: “From 1 August 2022, all COVID-19 travel restrictions for travellers to France have been lifted. The rules that previously applied to travellers coming to France no longer apply:

  • you are no longer required to present proof of vaccination

  • you are no longer required to fill out any forms prior to your arrival in France, such as a justification for travel or a sworn statement

  • you are no longer required to show proof of a negative PCR or antigen test upon arrival in France”

Have a great trip.

Q: We received a text from Eurostar cancelling our return trip from Paris to London on 20 August, due to the national rail strike. We tried to reschedule immediately, but the website was unresponsive and remains so. Very frustrated as Eurostar not providing any updates at all. What do you recommend?

Mabel Max

A: All you can do is keep trying. They should be saving space on unaffected trains for people in your position.

Airport timing

Q: We are flying to Catania with British Airways from London Heathrow on a 7.10am flight. We have bags to check in. When do you think we should arrive at the airport?

Butterfly Guy

A: For a 7.10am departure, I would plan to be at the airport by 5.30am – and fully expect all formalities to be completed by 6am.

Should you decide to travel from somewhere in London in the early hours of the day of the flight, rather than stay overnight at an airport hotel, the N9 night bus is very reliable and, on Saturday and Sunday mornings, the Piccadilly line Night Tube runs to Heathrow Terminal 5. Finally, there’s an early Elizabeth line service from London Paddington to Terminal 5 at 4.42am, arriving at 5.14am.

Q: Me and my mum need to get from Manchester to London Heathrow in October. Our flight to Cairo departs from Terminal 2 at 3pm. Considering the rail strikes/service reductions, cancellation of domestic flights by British Airways and potential for accidents and traffic jams on the motorway, what would you suggest is the best way of making this trip?

C Ayres

A: October is an excellent month in which to be flying to Egypt. After the intense heat of summer, the nation remains warm and sunny while the UK will be getting progressively darker and colder.

Heathrow recommends that you arrive three hours before your flight – which makes it 12 noon at the airport.I suggest you forget the prospect of a morning flight from Manchester. The only airline is British Airways, which flies to Terminal 5 – from where you would need to transfer. Furthermore, if anything goes awry with the BA flight, there is no protection of your Cairo booking because you would have bought the two trips separately. If you arrive late, you will simply be classed as a “no-show” for the Egyptair flight.

Coach services are slow and prone to delay by other road users. The train is the obvious choice: travelling to London Euston on Avanti West Coast in just over two hours, and then onwards by Tube (Euston to Green Park on the Victoria Line, then the Piccadilly Line). Normally I would recommend an Advance ticket on the 8.15am from Manchester Piccadilly – which should land you comfortably at Terminal 2 for noon. But for at least the next four weeks, Avanti West Coast is operating a severely reduced timetable. Advance tickets at reasonable fares are extremely difficult to find at present, and there is also the prospect of further industrial action from either or both main rail unions, the RMT and Aslef, representing train drivers.

In your position I would wait until a couple of weeks beforehand to see if there is likely to be disruption and/or non-availability of reasonable fares on your travel date. If that is the case, then book a hotel at Heathrow. Ideally, make it the Hilton Garden Inn, just across from T2, with a superb view from the bar-restaurant on the top floor. But you will get a much lower price at the Thistle Hotel, which I can usually book for around £80. For an evening meal you could walk for 10 minutes to the nearby excellent Chinese restaurant, called Hong Kong London. Next morning have a leisurely breakfast (the restaurant has an excellent view of the northern runway) then take the driverless Pod link to Terminal 5 and use the free train (not Tube) connection to Terminal 2.

Luggage concerns

Q: Do you think the lost luggage situation will improve by September? I will be travelling to Corfu for a week with hold luggage.

Leila J

A: Yes. I believe everything will improve from 6am on Monday 5 September. Have a lovely time – September is a beautiful month in which to be in Corfu, with the Mediterranean at its warmest.