‘In less time than it takes to fly to Frankfurt, I had my precious certificate,’ writes Simon Calder
One of the most challenging aspects of meeting complex international travel rules is meeting the destination’s stipulations on PCR testing within a certain number of hours – usually 48 or 72 – before arrival.
With the UK experiencing some of the highest Covid infection levels in the world, you can scarcely criticise the governments of the places we yearn to visit.
The Royal College of Pathologists, which produces an excellent guide to the various Covid-19 tests says “PCR tests can detect very tiny amounts of RNA, meaning they are extremely sensitive. They are the best test for current infection.”
Yet some passengers have missed flights and lost hundreds of pounds as a result of test results arriving too late. Complying with these deadlines can also involve making extra journeys ahead of the trip, adding extra stress to pre-flight travel.
Now passengers using the UK’s four busiest airports – Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and Stansted – can avail of a promised three-hour turnaround – making it feasible (except for early flights) to build in the test as part of the airport process.
I tried out the Collinson service at Heathrow ahead of a trip to Jordan, one of many destinations demanding a negative PCR test result within 72 hours. The location is not especially convenient for the terminal: it is a car park at Cardinal Point, on the perimeter road at the northeast of the airport.
Many London buses serve the location – Harlington Corner – from Hounslow West tube station or Hayes & Harlington bus station, as well as the airport itself.
You make an appointment online, though the system does not demand exact compliance with the time you book. After you present your passport, you are assigned a curtained booth where a nurse swabs the back of your throat and deep into your nose.
Trust me, if there were any traces of Covid RNA lurking in any cavity the highly professional nurse who conducted my test robustly would have found them.
The second best thing about the experience is the price. Airport PCR tests are notoriously expensive (a six-hour turnaround at Newcastle will set you back £235). But the £95 list price was reduced by one-fifth to £76 because, as a British Airways passenger, I could use the BA20OFF code to save £19.
And the best thing? Having tested at 7.37am, the result was with me by 9.20am.
Thanks to the on-site laboratory, the turnaround was just 103 minutes. In less time than it takes to fly to Frankfurt, I had my precious certificate – and, thanks to the simple online system that the Jordanian government uses, it was uploaded a few minutes later – and in seconds I became the owner of my first Jordanian QR code.
Coilinson offers three-hour PCR tests at Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Stansted and The O2 in London.