Thousands race in from Pakistan ahead of ‘red list’ deadline

Exclusive: Aircraft from Bulgaria, Poland and Senegal have been shuttling between Islamabad and the UK, carrying up to 7,000 passengers

Thousands race in from Pakistan ahead of ‘red list’ deadline

Planespotters in the Birmingham area have never seen anything like it: a fleet of Polish-registered Boeing 737s flying from Islamabad via Moscow to the West Midlands.

The trio of Enter Air planes making for Birmingham airport from the Pakistani capital are among the many unusual aircraft movements bringing British citizens to the UK before 4am on Friday.

That is the moment when Pakistan – and three other nations – join the UK’s “red list” of high-risk countries.

A traveller arriving after the deadline will need to pay £1,750 for 11 nights of hotel quarantine. Before 4am on Friday they can simply travel home by public transport and self-isolate for 10 days (or less, if a test taken after five days proves negative).

As demand and fares have soared, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and the Pakistani carrier PIA have laid on extra nonstop services. 

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But with thousands of UK citizens in Pakistan, and no indication of when the red list restrictions might ease, enterprising travel agents have chartered in many additional aircraft to take part in the airlift.

An Airbus A330 belonging to Air Senegal and operated by HiFly Malta has shuttled between Islamabad and Manchester five times in the past week. The website FlightRadar24 show the jet typically leaving the Pakistani capital at 4am local time and arriving in Manchester at 8am.

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As the deadline approaches, more planes are being brought in – with airlines from Bulgaria, Iceland and Spain joining the airlift.

Another A330, belonging to GullivAir of Bulgaria, is flying from Islamabad via Sofia to Birmingham.

Icelandair operated a Boeing 767 from the Pakistani capital to Heathrow.

A charter from the Spanish carrier Wamos Air is scheduled from Islamabad to London Stansted.

The last seats were being sold at around 300,000 rupees – over £1,400 one way.

Other services have operated from Lahore to Heathrow and Manchester, but planned flights by Qatar Airways to London appear to have been cancelled.

The Independent calculates that at least 30 extra flights have been operated in the week since the UK government announced Pakistan would join the red list, with around 5,000 to 7,000 arrivals in addition to the normal numbers.

Arrivals from Bangladesh, Kenya and the Philippines – the other three nations to join the list – are fewer.

Many of those travellers will be arriving via hubs in third countries such as Istanbul in Turkey, but the traditional Gulf routes via Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha are not feasible since the UAE and Qatar are already on the red list.

All arrivals to the UK must provide evidence of a negative Covid test before boarding the plane, and take further tests on days two and eight after arrival.

Simon is hosting a free event on 28 April, where he’ll untangle the latest news in the world of travel and let you know when, where and how you can go on holiday this summer. You can book a ticket by signing up to his weekly newsletter here.